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198 Role and Importance of Cryospheric Processes in Climate System

Part 17. Climate Change

  1. Joseph R McConnell

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa208

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

McConnell, J. R. 2006. Role and Importance of Cryospheric Processes in Climate System. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 17:198.

Author Information

  1. University and Community College System of Nevada, Division of Hydrologic Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV, US

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


The cryosphere, which includes seasonal snow, frozen ground, sea ice, glaciers, ice caps, and ice sheets, is one of Earth's five main regimes together with the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and pedosphere. It is estimated that the cryosphere contains about 1.8% of all water on Earth but nearly 70% of the freshwater. Interactions between snow and ice cover and the radiation budget make the cryosphere especially important to climate at local to global scales, while strong positive feedback mechanisms mean that the cryosphere is particularly sensitive to climate change. Impurities trapped in glaciers and ice sheets archive detailed, high-time resolution records of the Earth's changing climate and hydrologic cycle over the past million years. These and other records document repeated variations in the size of the cryosphere including very large, long-duration changes such as the glacial and interglacial periods as well as much smaller, though still important changes such as the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age during the last two millennia. The cryosphere is shrinking rapidly in response to the current warming, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.


  • cryosphere;
  • glacier;
  • ice sheet;
  • sea ice;
  • albedo;
  • feedback;
  • ice core;
  • permafrost