What is the cryosphere?

The cryosphere is the frozen water part of the Earth system.

There are places on Earth that are so cold that water is frozen solid. These areas of snow or ice, which are subject to temperatures below 0°C for at least part of the year, compose the cryosphere. The term “cryosphere” comes from the Greek word, “krios,” which means cold.

Ice and snow on land are one part of the cryosphere. This includes the largest parts of the cryosphere, the continental ice sheets found in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as ice caps, glaciers, and areas of snow and permafrost. When continental ice flows out from land and to the sea surface, we get shelf ice.
one part of the cryosphere is ice that is found in water.
This includes frozen parts of the ocean, such as waters surrounding Antarctica and the Arctic.

The other part of the cryosphere is ice that is found in water. This includes frozen parts of the ocean, such as waters surrounding Antarctica and the Arctic. It also includes frozen rivers and lakes, which mainly occur in polar areas.

The components of the cryosphere play an important role in the Earth’s climate. Snow and ice reflect heat from the sun, helping to regulate our planet’s temperature. Because polar regions are some of the most sensitive to climate shifts, the cryosphere may be one of the first places where scientists are able to identify global changes in climate.

Source: NOAA.

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What is a Tsunami?

Tsunami (pron: 'soo-nar-me') is a Japanese word; 'tsu' meaning harbour and 'nami' meaning wave. The phenomenon is usually associated with earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions in, or adjacent to oceans, and results in sudden movement of the water column. Until recently tsunami were called tidal waves, even though the event has nothing to do with tides.

A tsunami is different from a wind generated surface wave on the ocean. The passage of a tsunami involves the movement of water from the surface to the seafloor which means its speed is controlled by water depth. Consequently, as the wave approaches land and reaches increasingly shallow water it slows. However, the water column still in deeper water is moving slightly faster and catches up, resulting in the wave bunching up and becoming much higher. A tsunami is often a series of waves and the first may not necessarily be the largest.

When a tsunami travels over a long and gradual slope, it allows time for the tsunami to grow in wave height. This is called shoaling and typically occurs in shallow water less than 100m. Successive peaks can be anywhere from five to 90 minutes apart. In the open ocean, even the largest tsunami are relatively small with wave heights of less than one metre. The shoaling effect can increase this wave height to a degree such that the tsunami could potentially reach an onshore height of up to 30 metres above sea level. However, depending on the nature of the tsunami and the nearshore surroundings, the tsunami may create only barely noticeable ripples.

Interesting fact: Tsunami can travel at speeds up to 950km/h in deep water which can be represented by the speed of a passenger jet.

Source: Geoscience Australia.

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Quiz: Global warming

Quiz: Global warming - Questions and Answers
Test your knowledge about global temperature change and its impact on Earth's climate.

1. The six hottest years on record occurred during the last: 

A. 100 years 
B. 50 years 
C. 10 years

2. No place on Earth is colder today than it was 100 years ago. 

A. True 
B. False

3. Which of the following gases does not trap heat? 

A. Carbon dioxide 
B. Nitrogen 
C. Water vapor 
D. Methane

4. As average global temperature rises, 

A. Average precipitation increases 
B. Average precipitation decreases 
C. Average precipitation is unchanged

5. Where have some of the strongest and earliest impacts of global warming occurred? 

A. In the tropics 
B. In northern latitudes 
C. Impacts of global warming are distributed equally all over the planet.

6. Compared to other greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is the most effective at trapping heat near the Earth's surface. 

A. True 
B. False

7. Some kinds of pollution in the atmosphere can act to cool the planet by reducing the amount of solar radiation that reaches Earth's surface.

A. True
B. False

8. Earth has been warmer in the past than it is today.

A. True
B. False

9. If you removed the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect, and everything else stayed the same, Earth's temperature would be:

A. 10 to 20°F (6 to 11°C) warmer
B. 30 to 40°F (17 to 22°C) warmer
C. 10 to 20°F (6 to 11°C) cooler
D. 50 to 60°F (28 to 33°C) cooler

10. How do scientists collect evidence about climate?

A. Using remote sensing from space with satellites
B. By ground-based measurements of surface temperature, carbon dioxide concentration and sea level
C. By collecting "proxy data" from tree rings, ice cores and historical records
D. All of the above


1. C. 10 years. According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2009 was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005—the warmest year on record—and was tied with a cluster of other years—1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007—as the second warmest year since record-keeping began. January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record.

2. B. False. Although most locations on the planet have recorded increased temperatures since 1900, changes in global ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns have created small-scale temperature decreases in a few local regions.

3. B. Nitrogen. Heat-trapping greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range. Water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane are Earth's most abundant greenhouse gases. Nitrogen, which makes up 80 percent of Earth's atmosphere, is not a greenhouse gas. This is because its molecules, which contain two atoms of the same element (nitrogen), are unaffected by infrared light.

4. A. Average precipitation increases. Higher temperatures give rise to a more active water cycle, which means faster and greater evaporation and precipitation and more extreme weather events.

5. B. In northern latitudes. Some of the fastest-warming regions on the planet include Alaska, Greenland and Siberia. These Arctic environments are highly sensitive to even small temperature increases, which can melt sea ice, ice sheets and permafrost, and lead to changes in Earth's reflectance ("albedo").

6. B. False. Water vapor actually has more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide. It is also more abundant. But carbon dioxide and water vapor interact in crucial ways: More carbon dioxide means the atmosphere gets warmer, which then creates more water vapor, which traps heat and warms the atmosphere even more.

7. A. True. Air pollution can take the form of fine particles called "aerosols," which both absorb and scatter the sun's radiation. Both natural and man-made aerosols, such as dust, sea salt, soot and sulfates, affect the climate by reflecting radiation that is transmitted through the atmosphere.

8. A. True. Global temperatures during past interglacial periods have exceeded the average temperatures we observe today, although you would have to go back more than three million years to find a period that was clearly warmer than today.

9. D. 50 to 60°F (28 to 33°C) cooler. The greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring physical process that warms the Earth's surface with energy from the atmosphere. Without the effect, Earth's average surface temperature would be well below freezing.

10. D. All of the above. For the past few decades, scientists have had the benefit of global satellite data. We have accurate ground-based measurements that reach back just over a century. "Proxy" methods, such as tree ring and ice core analysis, are used to reconstruct climate records before the rise of modern instruments.

Credit: NASA Climate Change website.

Precipitation & the Water Cycle - Quiz Questions and Answers

Earth’s water is stored in ice and snow, lakes and rivers, the atmosphere and the oceans. How much do you know about how water is cycled around our planet and the crucial role it plays in our climate?

1. Which of the following processes within the water cycle is responsible for changing water from a liquid to a gas?
A. Precipitation 
B. Condensation 
C. Evaporation 
D. Groundwater flow 
E. Surface runoff

2. How much of Earth's surface is covered by water?

A. 3 percent 
B. 50 percent 
C. 70 percent 
D. 85 percent

3. Soil moisture (wetness) is important for:

A. Agricultural productivity 
B. Water quality 
C. Weather and climate forecasting 
D. Ecosystem health 
E. All of the above

4. What percentage of global precipitation falls on the land compared to the oceans? 

A. 13 percent 
B. 22 percent 
C. 35 percent 
D. 48 percent

5. Rain gauges collect and measure the amount of rain that falls on a particular spot. If you collected all the rain gauges in the world and placed them side-by-side, they would cover an area the size of:

A. A backyard swimming pool 
B. A basketball court 
C. A city block 
D. The state of Rhode Island

6. How long does it take a drop of water to travel through the water cycle? 

A. 8 to 10 days 
B. 2 to 6 months 
C. 100 years 
D. Thousands of years 
E. It depends on the path the droplet takes.

7. The sun is the driving force behind the water cycle. Roughly how much of the sun's energy is absorbed by the Earth's land surface and water? 

A. 48 percent 
B. 37 percent 
C. 16 percent 
D. 9 percent

8. What is the shape of a large raindrop as it falls through the air? 

A. A teardrop: round on the bottom and pointed at the top 
B. Like a hamburger bun: round on the top and flat on the bottom 
C. A perfect sphere with smooth edges 
D. Roughly a sphere, but with uneven edges and lumps

9. Global warming is increasing the temperature of our lower atmosphere. How will this affect the amount of moisture in the air? 

A. It will increase moisture. 
B. It will have no effect on moisture. 
C. It will decrease moisture.

10. The only ocean current that makes an uninterrupted circle around the entire Earth without hitting land is the

A. Gulf Stream 
B. Japan Current 
C. Antarctic Circumpolar Current 
D. California Current

1. C - Evaporation. One of the five fundamental processes in the water cycle, evaporation involves the conversion of water from a liquid to a gas (or "vapor"). The main cause of evaporation is heat from the sun warming the Earth's surface. The water cycle is a never-ending process of water being circulated around the planet from clouds to land, to the ocean, and back to the clouds.

2. C. 70 percent. Earth is often referred to as the "Water Planet" because you can see water in all three forms as you gaze at Earth from space. As we search for life elsewhere in the cosmos, we look for places that have liquid water, as it seems to be the primary requirement for life as we know it. About 70 percent of Earth is covered by water, and most of that water (97 percent) is found in our vast oceans.

3. E. All of the above. All living things depend on water; knowing just how much moisture is in soil is vital for understanding how our planet functions. Soil moisture is important for crop yields, crop productivity and a host of ecosystems.

4. B. 22 percent. Although land makes up about 30 percent of the Earth's surface, most global evaporation occurs over the ocean, and much of that water falls back into the oceans as precipitation. Only about 22 percent is transported over land to fall as rain or snow.

5. B. A basketball court. Rain gauges measure the amount of rainfall at a particular location and are used by gardeners, farmers and scientists. Although countries like the U.S. have an extensive rain gauge (and ground radar) network, the coverage is much spottier in developing nations and almost non-existent over the oceans. This is why space satellites, which can measure precipitation all over the world, are important.

6. E. It depends on the path the droplet takes. Water can take many paths as it travels around the planet. For example, water is in the atmosphere for just 8 to ten days, but it can stay in the soil for 1 to 2 months and as seasonal snow for 2 to 6 months. Water can remain locked into a glacier as ice for 20 to 100 years, in the oceans for 3,000 years or stored away as deep groundwater for 10,000 years. An epic journey!

7. A. 48 percent. The sun regulates how much water evaporates, condenses, falls as precipitation, is absorbed by the ground and runs off or flows over the land. About 29 percent of the sun's incoming energy is reflected directly back into space (by the atmosphere and brightly-colored ground surfaces), and another 23 percent is absorbed by our atmosphere. That leaves 48 percent to be absorbed by the Earth's land surface and water.

8. B. Like a hamburger bun: round on the top and flat on the bottom. Although it's commonly thought that raindrops take the form of a teardrop, they are actually shaped more like a hamburger bun as they fall. Up in the clouds, water vapor condenses into near-spherical raindrops because of surface tension. But as they fall, larger drops are affected by the air friction pushing against them and flatten out on the bottom.

9. A. It will increase moisture. Warm air can hold more moisture than cool air. This is because at higher temperatures, more liquid water molecules evaporate, which means there is more water vapor in the air. Warmer, wetter air can have other knock-on effects on storms and extreme weather events like floods. Extra heat in the atmosphere and oceans (related to global warming) fuels storms, potentially causing them to become stronger and more intense.

10. C. Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the only ocean current that flows all the way around the globe uninterrupted by land. Also known as the West Wind Drift, it is the largest and strongest current system on Earth and flows clockwise (from west to east) around Antarctica. It connects the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean basins.

Source: NASA.

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