Future of the Cryosphere


The average surface temperature of the Earth rose by 0.6 degrees Celsius during the 20th century (IPCC, 2001). As small as this value may sound, it is a legitimate cause for concern. For comparison, today's average global temperature is only 4-7 degrees Celsius warmer than it was during the last ice age (Riebeek, 2010) . Of course, Earth's climate goes through natural cycles. However, scientific data and models show that human activitiesprimarily fossil fuel burningwhich increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and average global temperatures, are pushing climate toward a tipping point (the stage in a process when a significant change takes place).

In this culminating activity, let's contemplate what the future might hold for climate and the cryosphere. In the first part of the lab, you will learn about what climate models predict Earth's climate will be like in the future. In Part B, you will consider potential changes in sea level that might be brought about by warming temperatures and melting ice.

After completing this Lab, 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 Learn

In these pages, you'll find three 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.
  • Discuss questions are intended to get you talking with your neighbor. These questions require you to pull some concepts together or apply your knowledge in a new situation.
Your teacher will let you know which questions you should answer and turn in.