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Arctic and Antarctic Ice Sheets

Ice sheets form over a thousand years when the snow does not melt during the summer months. The combined snow layers over the years pile up into ice sheets, and the new snowfall compresses the older layers.  There are two major ice sheets today in the world that  cover most of the Arctic and Antarctic. These ice sheets have been around during the Ice Age, covering most of North America and Scandinavia during that time. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, these ice sheets contain more than 99 percent of the freshwater ice on Earth. In recent years, the ice sheets have been gradually melting away due to climate change, and they are not recovering anytime soon.

Climate change has significantly impacted ice-sheets, which is unfortunate because they play an important role in Earth’s climate. Ice sheets hold a large amount of frozen water, and according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, if the Arctic “…ice sheet melted, scientists estimate that the sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, the sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).” These ice sheets also impact the weather and climate, since “…Large high-altitude plateaus on the ice caps” helps keep the weather colder by altering storm tracks, which then creates the cold downslope. However, the ice on the ice sheets have been declining since 1979. More ice is being melted in the summer, which is estimated at a 30 percent rate.  (It was at its highest in 2007.) In short, more ice is being melted than it accumulates during winter when the snow falls.

Due to climate change in Antarctica, the waters have become warmer by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1955, further contributing to the melting ice. According to the scientists on the west of Antarctica, the ice sheets are also losing mass, but not as quickly as in the Arctic.. Due to the loss of ice mass, it could negatively impact the storm tracks and the cold downslope winds.


Ice-sheets are essential because they could help scientists with their research about the Earth’s past climate changes. Scientists use ice sheets to extract ice cores, which could help them study about Earth’s climate. This is possible because ice sheets are made from layers of accumulated snow and ice over millions of years. These layers have air bubbles with trapped atmospheric data that help scientists analyze the different trapped gasses, dust particles, and water molecules from past occurrences in Earth’s climate. The obtained data from these ice cores help scientists make conclusions on how past climate events occurred, as well as predict what might happen in the future. This data provides vital clues about global warming by helping the scientists decide how much the temperature has been changed or became warmer over the different ice ages.

Since glaciers and ice sheets are sensitive to temperature changes, human induced global warming is negatively impacting the melting rate. Scientists noticed that the ice sheets have been receding at a rapid rate since the twentieth century. These glacier and ice-sheet retreats are  linked to the Industrial Revolution developments during the 1760s. Some of the things that are causing the glaciers and ice sheets to recede are the production of electricity, the use of coal and petroleum, and the uses of fossil fuels in transportation and industry. These energy sources produce tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which amounts to a 40% increase. These  gasses absorb the heat radiated from the surface of the earth, and when they become extremely hot, the gasses dissipate in different directions. Some of them go into the atmosphere, and some go back to the earth. These heat trapping gasses are also known as greenhouse gasses, are human-induced factors of global warming. And it’s because of global warming that the waters are becoming warmer, the ice sheets and glaciers are melting, and the sea levels are rising.



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