Topic 3e - Ice: Applications

In this video, Professor Andrew Shepherd highlights the relationship between climate change and sea level rise, and shows how measurements from satellites help us assess the cryospheric contributions to sea level. Professor Shepherd examines the trends in Arctic sea ice extent that have been uncovered using longer-term passive microwave remote sensing measurements. He will also look in more detail at how recent satellite measurements are providing us with valuable information about changes in ‘ice shelves’, the thick floating platforms of ice that can occur where a glacier or ice sheet flows down onto the ocean surface.

The cryosphere plays a vital role in the global climate system and the global hydrological cycle. For example, changes in the cryosphere affect Earth’s albedo, climate and sea level, the distribution of heat around our planet and the circulation of our oceans. Many people will have heard of the retreat of Arctic sea ice as a potential example of rapid climate change, and these changes to sea ice also affect Earth’s albedo and thus the amount of sunlight the planet reflects back into space.

The large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are also changing. It is highly important that we monitor their state to understand how climate change may be impacting upon them. At the moment, most sea level rise is being caused by thermal expansion of the oceans as Earth warms, but this may not remain the case if changes in the ice sheets increase. We need to be able to model the potential contribution that changes in the cryosphere could make to sea level rise in the future, if we are to understand what the implications could be for Earth’s environment and society.

Featured Educators:

  • Professor Andrew Shepherd

Optional Further Reading:

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