“Vanishing sea ice!” “Disintegrating ice shelves!” “Rising sea level!” Such proclamations illustrate the widening gap between the kind of glaciology that makes newspaper headlines and the kind of glaciology which is reinforced in standard scientific texts. It is as if there were two kinds of ice: a benign form such as that studied by Victorian gentlefolk and a new rogue form, of concern to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In truth, the difference is one of perspective: ice as a feature of the local land- or seascape versus ice as an active component of the Earth system. From the global perspective, the two most important attributes of Earth system ice, a.k.a. the cryosphere, are its high albedo (leading to a positive climate feedback) and the large mass of stored freshwater—roughly 70 m of sea-level equivalent. These aspects are addressed in several chapters of the IPCC's Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001. J. Bamber and T. Payne's ambitious book provides the backstory in the form of a coherent treatise.