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The Cryosphere refers to any place on Earth where water is in its solid form, where low temperatures freeze water and turn it into ice. Frozen water can be in the form of solid ice or snow and occurs in many places around the Earth. People often think of the polar regions of our planet as the main home of the Cryosphere; the North Pole in the Arctic, as well as the South Pole in the Antarctic. The cryosphere exists in the polar regions but is also found wherever snow, sea ice, glaciers, permafrost, ice sheets, and icebergs exist. In these places, surface temperatures remain below freezing for a portion of each year.
Snow and ice are both basic elements of the cryosphere. How snow and ice interact throughout Earth’s different environments creates interesting features such as sea ice, glaciers, ice shelves, icebergs, and frozen ground. Since ice and snow are often found at temperatures close to their melting point, they frequently change from solid to liquid and back again in response to increases and decreases in surface temperature. Although direct measurements of the cryosphere can be difficult to obtain due to the remote locations of many of these areas, satellite observations help scientists monitor global and regional climate changes by observing how regions of the Earth's cryosphere shrink and expand.
Cryospheric Sciences at NASA
Increases in ice loss from the glaciers of Antarctica, Greenland, and the rest of the Arctic are contributing to sea level rise, while similarly dramatic changes are occurring in the sea ice cover of the Arctic and Southern Oceans. Characterizing these changes and understanding the processes controlling them is required to improve our understanding of the Earth system and forecast the impacts of continued change.
The Earth’s cryosphere covers continent-sized areas in the most inaccessible and inhospitable regions of the globe. NASA’s capabilities in satellite and aircraft remote-sensing are critical tools for understanding the changes occurring there. NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program supports studies based on satellite and aircraft remote sensing observations to understand the factors controlling changes in the ice and its interaction with the ocean, atmosphere, solid earth, and solar radiation.
Missions Where can I get cryosphere data?