No, this isn’t a geography class, at least not entirely. But, to answer the question bothering some of you, the cryosphere is the part of the Earth affected by snow, ice, and frost. And it plays a significant role in global climate.
The cryosphere is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and the fashion industry, with its significant environmental footprint, can contribute to the degradation of these fragile ecosystems.
This has led to a growing recognition of the importance of sustainable clothing in reducing the impact on the cryosphere and mitigating the effects of climate change.
So, how does the cryosphere affect global climate? By the end of this article, you should better understand why the cryosphere is so essential and its role in global climate change.
What Is the Cryosphere and Why Is It Important?
The cryosphere is an integral part of Earth’s climate system. It’s defined as the components of the Earth’s system that are affected by, or dependent upon, temperatures below 0°C.
This includes snow and ice cover on land, sea ice, freshwater ice, river ice or lake ice, permafrost in soil, frozen ground, glaciers, and ice sheets.
While many may think of the cryosphere as just one thing, it consists of many components that play different roles in the global climate system and how does it affect global climate?
The cryosphere is key in regulating Earth’s climate and weather patterns. This includes controlling the release of water vapor into the atmosphere. It also regulates sea levels by storing large amounts of water that can be released suddenly from melting or calving off into the ocean as icebergs.
The cryosphere’s high reflectivity enables it to reflect sunlight into space, which helps keep our planet cool by limiting how much solar energy our oceans and landmasses absorb.
Finally, it plays a significant role in maintaining biodiversity, as different species rely on cold temperatures for survival and growth.
The cryosphere is a protective blanket that protects the entire planet’s energy balance.
How Do Glaciers Regulate Sea Levels and Ocean Temperatures?
Glaciers are the largest terrestrial component of the cryosphere, critical to regulating global sea levels and ocean temperatures. Call them massive rivers of ice, and you would be right because that’s precisely what Glaciers are. That’s why they can act as a gigantic storehouse of freshwater—a precious resource in drought.
Furthermore, when these glaciers re-melt into the ocean, they have a cooling effect on global temperatures. Because their cold water counteracts the warming of the oceans from climate change, it’s like that indispensable component that balances global temperatures and regulates Earth’s climate.
What’s more, glaciers absorb excess solar radiation from land surfaces due to their reflective white surface.
So, it reduces global warming in two ways: by minimizing direct sunlight being absorbed by land surfaces. And by maintaining liquid form on Earth longer to distribute heat more evenly.
How Is Sea Ice Loss Accelerating Global Warming?
Have you ever wondered how melting sea ice can accelerate global warming? It’s pretty simple. Sea ice is white and highly reflective, reflecting most of the sun’s energy into space.
But when sea ice melts, dark ocean water is exposed—and this water absorbs more of the sun’s energy leading to further warming.
This process creates a vicious cycle: The more warming from sea ice loss, the more sea ice melts.
In fact, according to recent research from NASA, for every degree Celsius that global temperatures increase, the Arctic loses an average of 7% of its summertime sea ice cover.
The acceleration of global warming caused by sea ice loss has even more profound implications for our planet. It could lead to changes in precipitation patterns, stronger storms, and higher ocean levels in coastal regions worldwide.
We’re already seeing some of these effects today. In 2020 alone, we’ve seen record ocean levels and catastrophic storms like Typhoon Hagibis in Japan and Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean.
So as you can see, sea ice loss is a severe issue that profoundly affects global climate. It speeds up global warming but also leads to problems that can affect us all.
How Melting Permafrost Releases Greenhouse Gasses?
Have you ever heard of permafrost? Most likely, yes, because it’s been in the news lately. But what does it have to do with global climate? As it turns out, quite a lot.
Let’s start with the basics—permafrost is frozen soil, or frozen year-round, found in Arctic regions. As the climate warms due to climate change, permafrost thaws and releases a lot of greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
These are potent greenhouse gasses that can lead to further warming and other damaging environmental impacts across the globe. The release of these gasses has been so significant that scientists agree that permafrost thawing is an amplifying feedback loop for global warming.
What Happens When Permafrost Melts?
When permafrost thaws, microorganisms break down the previously frozen organic matter trapped within it during its extended frozen state. It doesn’t even spare carbon from plants and animals that are thousands of years old!
This organic material breaks down into methane and carbon dioxide gas released into our atmosphere, creating an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions from natural sources.
The amount of carbon released from this melting can be huge—estimates range between 20-50 gigatons of carbon dioxide over the next century! So we must keep global temperatures in check to prevent runaway melting and large-scale emissions.
Why Snow Cover Changes Impact Regional Weather Patterns?
Do you know why snow cover changes can majorly affect regional weather patterns? It’s due to what’s known as the “albedo effect.”
The albedo effect describes how the Earth reflects sunlight because of different surfaces. The more reflective the surface is, the more sunlight it reflects—and snow-covered surfaces tend to be much brighter and more thoughtful than other surfaces.
When an area has less snow coverage, less heat is reflected into space. This translates to more heat being stored in the atmosphere, leading to more significant warming in localized areas and changing regional weather patterns.
Changes in snow cover can impact climate change over the long term. For example, glaciers retreat because of rising temperatures, and decreased snowfall amounts cause sea level rise. How? Because the melted glacier (which is now water) enters our oceans.
This makes it clear that changes in snow cover directly affect global weather patterns. If temperatures continue to rise, there may be additional issues with climate change.
How Ice Sheets Shape Global Ocean Circulation Patterns?
The sixth thing you might not know about the cryosphere and global climate is how ice sheets shape global ocean circulation patterns. Ice sheets, vast expanses of ice and snow, are huge—they have a significant role in ocean currents, affecting climate.
So how do ice sheets shape global ocean circulation patterns?
Ice sheets have a massive gravitational pull—they draw water into the center of the sheet, which then moves outward in all directions.
This process creates large swirls and eddies that affect the flow of ocean currents and even seasonal temperatures.
Formation of Sea Ice
They influence the formation of sea ice. During colder months, sea ice forms due to an influx of freshwater from melting ice sheets. This icy cold water cools ocean temperatures, affecting air temperatures and wind patterns across different areas.
As you can see, the cryosphere is a vital climate system component, affecting global temperatures and other climate variables. It’s one of the most vulnerable regions as the planet warms.
To answer the question, how does the cryosphere affect global climate? The changes in the cryosphere cause several damages like glacier mass loss, decrease in the Antarctic ice sheet covers and Arctic sea ice extent, Greenland ice sheet mass loss, etc.
Glacier and ice caps, snow, and sea ice all play a vital role in global climate systems. However, their sensitivity to changes in temperature may make them one of the most vulnerable parts of the climate system in a warming world.
This is why we must protect the cryosphere in every way that matters when we know how these components affect the global climate.