CRYOSPHERE: what it is and characteristics - Summary!

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There are peoples in some regions of the planet that have never seen snow, while others without snow or ice would make no sense in their culture, as living beings adapted to these extreme conditions. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the surface of our planet It is part of the cryosphere, known as the frozen layer of the hydrosphere.

If you want to delve into knowing what the definition of the cryosphere is or what its characteristics and importance are, in addition to knowing its relationship with climate change, this Green Ecologist article is perfect for you because we talk about what is the cryosphere and its characteristics to get closer to this great layer of water in solid state that we find on Earth.

What is the cryosphere

It is known as cryosphere or cryosphere (from the Greek kryos "ice" and sphere "globe") to all those frozen water components of the Earth, which are found under or on the surface of oceanic and / or terrestrial systems. Among those that are recognized:

  • Snow and hail.
  • The ice caps.
  • Glaciers.
  • Sea ice.
  • Icebergs or icebergs.
  • The frozen rivers and lakes.
  • Permafrost.
  • Frozen soils according to the season.

Characteristics of the cryosphere

After knowing the definition of cryosphere and some of its components, we will learn more by talking about the main characteristics of the cryosphere:

  • It is created in the highest latitudes and altitudes, in addition to low temperature areas.
  • It usually turns between transparent, white and light blue.
  • Depending on where it is on the ground, it may have formed thousands of years ago.
  • There are places whose appearance is seasonal during the winter season.
  • Some glaciers show a pink color associated with algae that develop in the upper layers of ice and snow. This factor is estimated to be a bioindicator of climate change.
  • The largest volume of global ice is harbored in Antarctica.
  • About three-quarters of the world's fresh water is contained in the cryosphere.
  • They are thermal regulators.

The cryosphere plays a relevant role in the global climate by influence the hydrological cycle or the water cycle, affecting clouds, aquifers, circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, rainfall … In addition, as we indicated before, it acts as a global thermal regulator due to its following properties:

  • Surface reflectance (albedo effect): Being clear surfaces, they reflect a higher percentage of radiation compared to other surfaces (oceans, vegetation, land, deserts …).
  • Thermal diffusivity: corresponds to the speed at which heat is transmitted through an object. In snow and ice it travels noticeably slower than through air, acting as thermal insulators.
  • Latent heat: is the energy released or stored in phase changes at a constant temperature. In relation to the cryosphere, it is the energy required to transform the states of water: solid, liquid, gas.

Importance of the cryosphere

From a more anthropocentric point of view, ice provides us with information about what happened on Earth years ago. Thanks to the ice surfaces that remain constant, it has been analyzed that there were several global warming millions of years ago, so it allows us to know how the climatic evolution of the Earth.

Other reasons for the great importance of the cryosphere are as follows:

  • Provides water for ecosystems, people, animals and plants.
  • It facilitates the study of the climatic evolution of the Earth.
  • Reflects sunlight and regulates global climate.
  • It is the habitat of a large number of animals and plants.
  • Some cultures depend on it, such as those native to the Arctic.

The cryosphere and climate change

Due to the increase in temperatures associated with climate change, accelerated by the anthropic effect, the volume of ice in the cryosphere has been gradually reducing in recent decades. The entire scientific community confirms the direct association that exists between increasing climate change and melting of the frozen water surface or cryogenized. According to the IPPCC (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) between 2007 and 2016 in Antarctica the loss of ice has tripled.

Among the multiple effects of the melting of the cryosphere are:

  • The worst case scenario estimates a Rising sea levels 1.1 m in coastal areas. This implies large migrations associated with climate change, as well as loss of surface area and resources. Here we talk more about Sea Level Rise: causes and consequences.
  • Some frozen surfaces have trapped CO2. When melting, this gas tends to acidify the oceans. Certain marine species are very sensitive to changes in pH, even dying, as is the case with corals. Which form the habitat of large species. Which implies a loss of associated biodiversity. Learn more about Acidification of the oceans: what it is, causes and consequences with this other article.
  • As there is more surface of liquid water and not so cold, there would be large ocean species movements from subtropical to more arctic zones, altering ecological niches.
  • Part of the retained CO2 would rise to the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect. Recent scientific studies are highlighting how the melting of permafrost will increase the increase in global warming.
  • As the white ice surface is reduced, reduces the albedo effect and therefore increases the radiation absorbed by the earth, increasing the greenhouse effect.
  • Modification of salinity, currents and marine ecosystems, due to the incursion of fresh water in these areas.

To finish learning about the cryosphere and its current situation, which is linked to climate change, we encourage you to read these other Green Ecologist articles:

  • Data on the melting of the poles.
  • Consequences of the melting of the poles.
  • Greenland thaw: causes and consequences.

If you want to read more articles similar to Cryosphere: what it is and characteristics, we recommend that you enter our category of Curiosities of the Earth and the universe.

  • B. Goodison et al. (2007) Present and future of the polar cryosphere, including the variability of the Arctic hydrological cycle.
  • Cryosphere and Antarctic Table (2022) Cryosphere and Climate Change:
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