The components of the cryosphere play an essential role in the Earth’s climate. Snow and ice reflect heat from the sun, helping to regulate our planet’s temperature. Comprehending the changes in the frozen water part of the Earth system is the key to adapt to climate change consequences, according to Professor Andreas Kääb, a glacier expert from the University of Oslo in Norway. Below pieces of information are based on Professor Andreas Kääb knowledge.
The importance of the cryosphere
‘The changes of the cryosphere create a chain reaction affecting not only the ecosystems but the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Seasonal or year-round snow, glaciers, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets consist together 40% of the Earth’s land area.
‘Unfortunately, most ice on Earth is very close to melting conditions. Sea level change through increased melt of glaciers and ice sheets is certainly the most far-reaching effect of ice melt on Earth.’
“Glaciers are typically found comparably close to where people live. That means their changes affect people quite directly,” said Kääb.
The effect sea levels changing have
‘Mean sea level is projected to rise about 1 meter by 2100 and will threaten the coastal population. In theory, in case of complete melt of the Antarctic ice sheet, the ocean will rise around 60m.’
Other impacts of ice melting
‘Another effect could be if glaciers retreat they leave steep mountain flanks uncovered, so there are debris and rocks that are set to destabilize. So, we expect more rockfalls or debris flows from such areas. Greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost are much less understood but could have an equally broad, actually global, impact by enhancing humanmade emissions.
‘Ice avalanches from glaciers can destroy infrastructure, houses, and kill people. However, in theory, if a glacier retreats very much, then the hazard from related ice avalanches could reduce.’
How could understanding glacier change help?
‘Understanding glacier change helps to adapt to related climate change impacts such as changes in dry-season run-off and water supply, changes in glacial landslides and avalanches, or changes in the touristic value of glaciers.
For scientists, glaciers are important to illustrate climate change and make it understandable for a large audience.’ Professor Andreas Kääb was also the coordinator of ICEMASS, a project using satellite imagery to measure and analyze changes to glaciers.