Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Cryosphere


The East China Plains (ECP) region experienced the worst haze pollution on record for January in 2013. We show that the unprecedented haze event is due to the extremely poor ventilation conditions, which had not been seen in the preceding three decades. Statistical analysis suggests that the extremely poor ventilation conditions are linked to Arctic sea ice loss in the preceding autumn and extensive boreal snowfall in the earlier winter. We identify the regional circulation mode that leads to extremely poor ventilation over the ECP region. Climate model simulations indicate that boreal cryospheric forcing enhances the regional circulation mode of poor ventilation in the ECP region and provides conducive conditions for extreme haze such as that of 2013. Consequently, extreme haze events in winter will likely occur at a higher frequency in China as a result of the changing boreal cryosphere, posing difficult challenges for winter haze mitigation but providing a strong incentive for greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Concepts: Snow, Ice, Climate, Climate change, Arctic Ocean, Greenhouse gas, Sea ice, Cryosphere


Thermally incised meltwater channels that flow each summer across melt-prone surfaces of the Greenland ice sheet have received little direct study. We use high-resolution WorldView-½ satellite mapping and in situ measurements to characterize supraglacial water storage, drainage pattern, and discharge across 6,812 km(2) of southwest Greenland in July 2012, after a record melt event. Efficient surface drainage was routed through 523 high-order stream/river channel networks, all of which terminated in moulins before reaching the ice edge. Low surface water storage (3.6 ± 0.9 cm), negligible impoundment by supraglacial lakes or topographic depressions, and high discharge to moulins (2.54-2.81 cm⋅d(-1)) indicate that the surface drainage system conveyed its own storage volume every <2 d to the bed. Moulin discharges mapped inside ∼52% of the source ice watershed for Isortoq, a major proglacial river, totaled ∼41-98% of observed proglacial discharge, highlighting the importance of supraglacial river drainage to true outflow from the ice edge. However, Isortoq discharges tended lower than runoff simulations from the Modèle Atmosphérique Régional (MAR) regional climate model (0.056-0.112 km(3)⋅d(-1) vs. ∼0.103 km(3)⋅d(-1)), and when integrated over the melt season, totaled just 37-75% of MAR, suggesting nontrivial subglacial water storage even in this melt-prone region of the ice sheet. We conclude that (i) the interior surface of the ice sheet can be efficiently drained under optimal conditions, (ii) that digital elevation models alone cannot fully describe supraglacial drainage and its connection to subglacial systems, and (iii) that predicting outflow from climate models alone, without recognition of subglacial processes, may overestimate true meltwater export from the ice sheet to the ocean.

Concepts: Water, Greenland ice sheet, Glacier, Climate, Hydrology, Drainage, Surface water, Cryosphere


Glaciers in the high mountains of Asia (HMA) make a substantial contribution to the water supply of millions of people, and they are retreating and losing mass as a result of anthropogenic climate change at similar rates to those seen elsewhere. In the Paris Agreement of 2015, 195 nations agreed on the aspiration to limit the level of global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius ( °C) above pre-industrial levels. However, it is not known what an increase of 1.5 °C would mean for the glaciers in HMA. Here we show that a global temperature rise of 1.5 °C will lead to a warming of 2.1 ± 0.1 °C in HMA, and that 64 ± 7 per cent of the present-day ice mass stored in the HMA glaciers will remain by the end of the century. The 1.5 °C goal is extremely ambitious and is projected by only a small number of climate models of the conservative IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP)2.6 ensemble. Projections for RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5 reveal that much of the glacier ice is likely to disappear, with projected mass losses of 49 ± 7 per cent, 51 ± 6 per cent and 64 ± 5 per cent, respectively, by the end of the century; these projections have potentially serious consequences for regional water management and mountain communities.

Concepts: Earth, Ice, Climate, Climate change, Celsius, Global warming, Fahrenheit, Cryosphere


The Earth’s cryosphere comprises those regions that are cold enough for water to turn into ice. Recent findings show that the icy realms of polar oceans, glaciers and ice sheets are inhabited by microorganisms of all three domains of life, and that temperatures below 0 °C are an integral force in the diversification of microbial life. Cold-adapted microorganisms maintain key ecological functions in icy habitats: where sunlight penetrates the ice, photoautotrophy is the basis for complex food webs, whereas in dark subglacial habitats, chemoautotrophy reigns. This Review summarizes current knowledge of the microbial ecology of frozen waters, including the diversity of niches, the composition of microbial communities at these sites and their biogeochemical activities.

Concepts: Life, Water, Earth, Ice, Glacier, Antarctica, Glaciology, Cryosphere


The environmental, socioeconomic and cultural significance of glaciers has motivated several countries to regulate activities on glaciers and glacierized surroundings. However, laws written to specifically protect mountain glaciers have only recently been considered within national political agendas. Glacier Protection Laws (GPLs) originate in countries where mining has damaged glaciers and have been adopted with the aim of protecting the cryosphere from harmful activities. Here, we analyze GPLs in Argentina (approved) and Chile (under discussion) to identify potential environmental conflicts arising from law restrictions and omissions. We conclude that GPLs overlook the dynamics of glaciers and could prevent or delay actions needed to mitigate glacial hazards (e.g. artificial drainage of glacial lakes) thus placing populations at risk. Furthermore, GPL restrictions could hinder strategies (e.g. use of glacial lakes as reservoirs) to mitigate adverse impacts of climate change. Arguably, more flexible GPLs are needed to protect us from the changing cryosphere.

Concepts: Ice, Glacier, Protection, Antarctica, Patagonia, Cryosphere, Rock flour


It has been suggested that the cryosphere is a new biome uniquely dominated by microorganisms, although the ecological characteristics of these cold-adapted bacteria are not well understood. We investigated the vertical variation with depth of the proportion of pigmented bacteria recovered from an ice core drilled in the Yuzhufeng Glacier, Tibetan Plateau. A total of 25,449 colonies were obtained from 1250 ice core sections. Colonies grew on only one-third of the inoculated Petri dishes, indicating that although the ice core harbored abundant culturable bacteria, bacteria could not be isolated from every section. Four phyla and 19 genera were obtained; Proteobacteria formed the dominant cluster, followed by Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. The proportion of pigmented bacteria increased with depth from 79 to 95% and yellow-colored colonies predominated throughout the ice core, making up 47% of all the colonies. Pigments including α- and β-carotene, diatoxanthin, peridinin, zea/lutein, butanoyloxy, fucoxanthin and fucoxanthin were detected in representative colonies with α-carotene being the dominant carotenoid. To the best of our knowledge, this is the highest resolution study of culturable bacteria in a deep ice core reported to date.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Ice, Glacier, Pigment, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Cryosphere


Autumn sea ice trends in the western Ross Sea dominate increases in Antarctic sea ice and are outside the range simulated by climate models. Here we use a number of independent data sets to show that variability in western Ross Sea autumn ice conditions is largely driven by springtime zonal winds in the high latitude South Pacific, with a lead-time of 5 months. Enhanced zonal winds dynamically thin the ice, allowing an earlier melt out, enhanced solar absorption, and reduced ice cover the next autumn. This seasonal lag relationship has implications for sea ice prediction. Given a weakening trend in springtime zonal winds, this lagged relationship can also explain an important fraction of the observed sea ice increase. An analysis of climate models indicates that they simulate weaker relationships and wind trends than observed. This contributes to weak western Ross Sea ice trends in climate model simulations.Antarctic sea ice extent continues to increase, with autumn sea ice advances in the western Ross Sea particularly anomalous. Here, based on analysis of independent datasets, the authors show that springtime zonal winds in the high latitude South Pacific drive western Ross Sea autumn sea ice conditions.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Ocean, Antarctica, Climate model, Latitude, Southern Ocean, Cryosphere


Seismic source and wave propagation studies contribute to understanding structure, transport, fracture mechanics, mass balance, and other processes within glaciers and their surrounding environments. Glaciogenic seismic waves readily couple with the bulk Earth, and can be recorded by seismographs deployed at local to global ranges. Although the fracturing, ablating, melting, and/or highly irregular environment of active glaciers can be highly unstable and hazardous, informative seismic measurements can commonly be made at stable proximal ice or rock sites. Seismology also contributes more broadly to emerging studies of elastic and gravity wave coupling between the atmosphere, oceans, solid Earth, and cryosphere, and recent scientific and technical advances have produced glaciological/seismological collaborations across a broad range of scales and processes. This importantly includes improved insight into the responses of cryospheric systems to changing climate and other environmental conditions. Here, we review relevant fundamental physics and glaciology, and provide a broad review of the current state of glacial seismology and its rapidly evolving future directions.

Concepts: Earth, Ice, Glacier, Earthquake, Seismic wave, Geophysics, Seismometer, Cryosphere


Long-term monitoring of global pollutant such as Mercury (Hg) in the cryosphere is very essential for understanding its bio-geochemical cycling and impacts in the pristine environment with limited emission sources. Therefore, from May 2015 to Oct 2015, surface snow and snow-pits from Xiao Dongkemadi Glacier and glacier melt water were sampled along an elevation transect from 5410 to 5678m a.s.l. in the central Tibetan Plateau (TP). The concentration of Hg in surface snow was observed to be higher than that from other parts of the TP. Unlike the southern parts of the TP, no clear altitudinal variation was observed in the central TP. The peak Total Hg (HgT) concentration over the vertical profile on the snow pits corresponded with a distinct yellowish-brown dust layer supporting the fact that most of the Hg was associated with particulate matter. It was observed that only 34% of Hg in snow was lost when the surface snow was exposed to sunlight indicating that the surface snow is less influenced by the post-depositional process. Significant diurnal variation of HgT concentration was observed in the river water, with highest concentration observed at 7pm when the discharge was highest and lowest concentration during 7-8am when the discharge was lowest. Such results suggest that the rate of discharge was influential in the concentration of HgT in the glacier fed rivers of the TP. The estimated export of HgT from Dongkemadi river basin is 747.43gyr(-1), which is quite high compared to other glaciers in the TP. Therefore, the export of global contaminant Hg might play enhanced role in the Alpine regions as these glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate under global warming which may have adverse impact on the ecosystem and the human health of the region.

Concepts: Water, Ice, Glacier, Hydrology, Air pollution, Retreat of glaciers since 1850, Cryosphere, Firn


Cosmogenic 35S is useful in understanding a wide variety of chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the cryosphere. The 87.4-day half-life and the ubiquity of sulfur in natural environments renders it an ideal tracer of many phenomena. Measurements of 35S in snow and water samples are scarce as existing analytical methods require a large volume of sample (>20 L) due to their high analytical activity background and low counting efficiency. Here, we present a new set of snow/water sample collecting and handling procedures for high-sensitivity determination of cosmogenic 35S using a low-level liquid scintillation spectrometer. Laboratory experiments using diluted 35S standards (with activities of <5 disintegrations per minute) showed a 35S recovery percentage of ~95%, demonstrating a relatively small deviation from the true value. Using this method, we successfully measured 35S in ~1 L of fresh snow sample collected from a glacier on the Tibetan Plateau to be 47±7 mBq/L. Based on 35S activities in 9 natural samples measured in this study, a first proof-of-concept approximation for age determinations and source attributions was presented. This new method will provide a powerful tool in studying 35S in small volumes of snow and water samples, especially those from remote but climatically important regions such as the polar regions and the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas. The measurements are particularly important as the radioactive sulfur provides an actual clock of glacial melting processes. With the growing rate of glacial loss, the need for measurements from remote locations becomes all the more important.

Concepts: Water, Earth, Snow, Ice, Glacier, Antarctica, Himalayas, Cryosphere