Part A: Mass Balance
The term "land ice" can be used to describe any ice that formed over land primarily from freezing precipitation (as opposed to sea ice, which forms by the freezing of seawater). This includes glaciers, ice sheets, ice shelves, icebergs, and frozen ground. Read this excerpt about land ice (Acrobat (PDF) 305kB Jul2 11) from the NSIDC page "All About the Cryosphere" to familiarize yourself with the different types of land ice or click here to read the full article. In this part of the lab, we'll be focusing on glaciers.
Scientists are interested in studying these thermodynamic processes in glaciers because of the potential impacts for both humans and wildlife. More than two billion people around the world (primarily in China, India, Pakistan, and Bolivia) rely on glacial melt water for drinking and agriculture, but if glaciers melt too fast, there can be catastrophic flooding followed by a fresh water shortage. Melting ice sheets could result in loss of habitat for many species of birds and mammals, rising sea level, and increased global warming.
In this part of the investigation, you will explore glacial accumulation and ablation processes using parts of an online interactive produced by the University of Kentucky. By studying these processes, scientists are able to determine whether a glacier is growing or shrinking and whether changes in the glacier's mass balance are related to climate change.
- Read the Introduction text on the Home page of the interactive.
- Click on the Overview button. Then use the right arrow (->) at the top right of the interactive window to go to page 2: Anatomy of Glaciers.
- Study the animation carefully and read the accompanying text in the column on the right. At the bottom of the text column, click on the right arrow (->) to get additional information about the animation.
Used with permission.
Stop and Think
1: Explain what it means for a glacier to be in equilibrium.
2: Describe how scientists determine glacial mass balance.