Future of the Cryosphere
Warming temperatures are responsible for significant declines in sea ice thickness and extent in recent years. The loss of sea ice habitat due to melting ice is the primary threat to Polar bears. What will the future hold for the cryosphere and for the polar bears? Photo taken by Martha de Jong-Lantink. Image Source: Flickr.According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average surface temperature of the Earth has risen by more than one half of a degree Celsius over the last century. As small as this value may sound, it is a legitimate cause for concern. For comparison, today's average global temperature is only 5 degrees Celsius warmer than it was during the last ice age. Of course, Earth's climate goes through natural cycles. However, many scientists believe that human activitiesprimarily fossil fuel burningwhich increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and average global temperatures, are pushing climate to a tipping point (the crisis stage in a process, when a significant change takes place). If temperatures continue to climb, the cryosphere and the whole planet face potential peril. With a warmer climate comes the risk of extreme changes in weather patterns, snow and ice cover, and sea level, all of which could potentially have drastic effects on human health, animal habitats, and ecosystems worldwide.
In this culminating activity, you will contemplate what the future might hold for climate and the cryosphere. In the first part of the lab, you will consider potential changes in sea level that might be brought about by climate change and melting ice. In Part B (coming soon), you will use the online interactive "Earth Swings" to explore changes in glacial ice extent, coastline, and sea level over the last 600,000 years.
After completing this investigation, you should be able to:
- explain what climate models predict for the future of the cryosphere
- describe potential impacts on life as a result of predicted future changes to the cryosphere; and
- explain how the cryosphere is an important indicator of global climate change.
Keeping track of What You LearnIn these pages, you'll find two kinds of questions.
- Checking In questions are intended to keep you focused on key concepts. They allow you to check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
- Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills. These questions require you to pull some concepts together or apply your knowledge in a new situation.