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IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, WGI Chapter 4: Observations: Cryosphere (2014)


This is the chapter on the cryosphere in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. It  synthesizes the scientific knowledge on observed changes in the cryosphere, which comprises snow, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers and ice caps, ice shelves, ice sheets, and frozen ground.

In terms of its mass and its heat capacity, the cryosphere is the second largest component of the climate system (after the ocean). Its relevance for climate variability and change is based on physical properties, such as its high surface reflectivity (albedo) and the latent heat associated with phase changes, which have a strong impact on the surface energy balance. The presence (absence) of snow or ice in polar regions is associated with an increased (decreased) meridional temperature difference, which affects winds and ocean currents. Because of the positive temperature-ice albedo feedback, some cryospheric components act to amplify both changes and variability. However, some, like glaciers and permafrost, act to average out short-term variability and so are sensitive indicators of climate change.

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