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The cryosphere collectively describes all forms of frozen water at the Earth's surface - sea ice, ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, snow cover, river and lakeice, permafrost, seasonally frozen ground and solid precipitation. It is an important component in the context of climate change as it affects and is affected by changes in temperature. In particular, glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet, polar and mountain permafrost and Arctic sea-ice are expected to be dramatically altered by climate change.

A variety of national and international projects and programmes are monitoring changes in the cryosphere and analysing how these changes will develop in the future. They are also looking at the effects of these changes.

In Europe, there is a focus of monitoring and research activities on the Arctic. For example, IPY-CARE aims to create, co-ordinate and prepare a Pan-European science and implementation plan for Arctic climate change and ecosystems research as a contribution to the International Polar Year. The FP6 project DAMOCLES was an integrated ice-atmosphere-ocean monitoring and forecasting system designed for observing, understanding and quantifying climate changes in the Arctic. ACCESS is a new FP7 European Project that will evaluate Arctic climate change scenarios and their impact on specific economic sectors and human activities over the coming decades. Also, various monitoring systems and research projects have been implemented nationally, notably by Scandinavia and mountainous countries such as Switzerland.


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