Shop Windows to the Universe

Arches National Park Geology Tour provides an extensive, visually rich description of the geology of Arches, by Deborah Ragland, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.

The Cryosphere

Frozen water is found in many different places on Earth. Snow blankets the ground at mid and high latitudes during winter. Sea ice and icebergs float in the chilly waters of polar oceans. Ice shelves are found where ocean meets land in Earth’s polar regions. Glaciers and ice sheets move slowly over land in polar regions. Glaciers are also found on high mountaintops around the world. The soils of polar regions, called permafrost, are filled with frozen water. Together, these different types of frozen water are known as the Earth’s cryosphere.

Some parts of the cryosphere, such as snow and the ice on ponds and lakes, are only around during the winter. Other parts, such as glaciers and ice sheets, stay frozen year-round and, in fact, can stay that way for tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years.

 

Here are some of the ways that snow and ice are important for our planet!

  • Because snow and ice are light in color, they reflect more of the Sun’s energy back into space than dark-colored land and ocean water.
  • When ice and snow melt, the water becomes part of the hydrosphere. Animals and plants rely on the melt water to stay alive.
  • Many different living things with rely on parts of the cryosphere for water and habitat. Polar bears roam across Arctic sea ice, Arctic cod take shelter in areas underneath the sea ice. Some penguins rely on ice during their breeding season.
  • Glaciers and ice sheets shape the land surface. They erode rocks as the ice moves slowly across the land and then deposit the sediments in other places.
Last modified May 2, 2011 by Jennifer Bergman.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Sea Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic

Sea ice is frozen seawater. It floats on the oceans that are in Earth's polar regions. The salt in the seawater does not freeze. Very salty water gets trapped in the sea ice when it forms. The pockets...more

Icebergs

Icebergs are large pieces of ice that are floating in the ocean. They broke off of ice shelves or glaciers in Earth’s polar regions. Icebergs are a part of the cryosphere. Almost all of an iceberg is below...more

Ice Shelves

Ice shelves are found at the edges of glaciers and ice sheet. An ice sheet extends from land out over the ocean. Ice shelves are a part of the Earth's cryosphere. They can be found in both the north polar...more

Glaciers and Ice Sheets

This page is not yet developed at the elementary level. Please check back for updates or click on the "Intermediate" button above for information....more

Permafrost

This page is not yet developed at the elementary level. Please check back soon for updates or click on the "Intermediate" button above....more

Step 2: Sediments on the Move!

If you sneeze into a pile of dust the little particles fly everywhere, but if you sneeze into a pile of rocks, they will stay put. It takes more force than a sneeze to move those rocks. Winds and water...more

The Cryosphere and Global Climate Change

Did you know that even if you have never seen an iceberg or glacier, the snow and ice of the Earth’s cryosphere has a big impact on the climate where you live? Changes in the amounts of snow and ice on...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF