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Snow and ice in a changing hydrological world

January 1, 1983

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences, the 100th and 50th anniversaries of the First and Second International Polar Years, and the 25th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year, it seems appropriate to re-examine the world's water balance and the role of snow and ice in the global hydrological climatic system. Snow cover on land (especially in the Northern Hemisphere) and sea ice (especially in the Southern Hemisphere) vary seasonally, and this seasonal change has an important effect on the world climate because snow and sea ice reflect solar radiation efficiently and affect other heat flow processes between atmosphere and land or ocean. Glaciers, including ice sheets, store most of the fresh water on Earth, but change dimensions relatively slowly. There is no clear evidence that the glacier ice volume currently is declining, but more needs to be known about mountain glacier and ice sheet mass balances. The current rise in sea level poses an enigma: thermal expansion of the oceans may account for half of the present rise, but the other half is unexplained. Although major changes in the large ice sheets take place over time scales of 104 to 105 years, marine ice sheets may be subject to rapid disintegration due to grounding line instability, perhaps accompanied by surging. Ice cores may produce remarkably complete histories of air temperature, precipitation, fallout, and atmospheric composition. A recent core through the Greenland Ice Sheet shows an abrupt transition from glacial to modern climate just over 10000 years ago, suggesting that climate is an “almost intransitive” system. Because of the possibility of abrupt climate transitions and the uncertain stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, future climatic variations are difficult to predict. The calculated heating of the atmosphere in the polar regions due to CO2 increase is, therefore, of special interest.

Publication Year 1983
Title Snow and ice in a changing hydrological world
DOI 10.1080/02626668309491140
Authors M. F. Meier
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Hydrological Sciences Journal
Index ID 70011332
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse