Cryosphere and Climate

The term “cryosphere” collectively describes elements of the Earth system containing water in its frozen state. It includes snow cover and solid precipitation, sea ice, lake and river ice, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, permafrost and seasonally frozen ground. Ice shelves and icebergs are included in these categories. The cryosphere is an integral part of the Earth system and particularly sensitive to warming climate. Consequently its state parameters provide informative indicators of change in the climate system. Through its influence on surface energy and moisture fluxes, clouds, precipitation, hydrology, and atmospheric and oceanic circulation, the cryosphere plays a significant role in the global climate system.

Changes in the cryosphere are involved in the strong positive feedback of a warming climate associated with a decreasing surface albedo as snow and ice melt. Recently intensified melting of glaciers is now considered to be the main cause of the increased pace of global sea-level rise. The potential for accelerated melting of various parts of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets, which could lead to several meters of sea-level rise, is a matter of great societal concern, and hence is a high priority research area for WCRP.
It is crucial to assess and quantify the impacts that climatic variability and change will have on components of the cryosphere and its overall stability, and, in turn, the consequences of the resulting changes in the cryosphere for further changes in the climate system. CliC is working closely with GEWEX and CLIVAR to advance this research. It is essential to continue the development and validation of physically based land-atmosphere-cryosphere process models, including permafrost-hydrology and carbon cycle interactions, with appropriate complexity for their use in coupled climate models across a range of time and space scales. Improvement of regional climate models with interactive climate-cryosphere hydrosphere schemes is vital to allow assessments of (i) impacts of climate variability and change on the terrestrial cryosphere and water resources, and (ii) the effects of changes in the cryosphere on regional climates for the mountain and watershed systems. The role of river- and lake-ice processes in watershed hydrology over the cold regions, particularly in the Arctic region, should also be examined.




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