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There have been published records of surface temperature change over large regions since the late 1800s (Figure 10.1), but only in recent decades that there have been many studies showing that the Earth is experiencing unprecedented climate warming on a global scale. Under continued climate warming, a critical issue is the contributions to sea-level rise (SLR) through the melting of mountain glaciers and possible disintegration of parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet, added to ocean thermal expansion.
The word “Gletscher” (glacier) first appeared on a map of the Alps in 1538, but the term “Ferner” for old snow was used in the Tyrol in 1300 and “Kees” (ice) in 1533 and on a map from 1604 (Klebelsberg, 1948, pp. 1–2).
In this chapter, we briefly review the principal applications of research on snow and ice phenomena and provide references to further readings. Each main component of the cryosphere is treated separately.
The first observations of icebergs were probably made by Inuit hunters in the Arctic and then by early mariners, including Irish monks and Vikings. Martin Frobisher’s expeditions to Baffin Island in the 1570s–1580s certainly witnessed them and whalers and sealers in Baffin Bay and the Greenland Sea frequently sheltered in their lee from storms and sea ice.
Terrestrial snow cover occupies higher latitude areas of the Northern Hemisphere (NH) from several up to 9 months each year in the Arctic land surface, with significant influence on the surface energy budget, subsoil thermal regime, and the freshwater storage. Snow cover also interacts with vegetation and affects terrestrial habitats and species.
The word avalanche is derived from the French “avaler” (to swallow). An avalanche involves the rapId flow of a mass of sow down a slope, triggered by either natural processes or human activity. Avalanches have long been feared in Alpine countries. On March 1, 1910, on the Great Northern Railway line thorough the Cascade Range at Stevens Pass, WA, northeast of Seattle, 96 passengers and crew were killed by a massive avalanche that struck a stationary train.
While ice sheets were extensive in the Northern Hemisphere during the Pleistocene glaciations, covering much of North America and Scandinavia, the two remaining continental ice sheets are in Greenland and in Antarctica. Greenland is essentially a single dome reaching above 3 km, while the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) has a more complex form that rises above 4 km and is bordered by two major ice shelves and numerous smaller ones. These ice sheets have existed for millions (tens of millions in the case of Antarctica) of years. Arbitrarily, an ice sheet is defined as glacier ice extending over 50,000 km2 in area.
The Earth has undergone enormous changes in its snow and ice cover and temperature during geological time (Figure 9.1). There have been at least six major Ice Ages when large parts of the Earth’s surface are covered by glaciers and extensive ice sheets, as well as periods when there has probably been no ice, like the Cretaceous; however, there is no strict quantitative definition.
The earliest account of sea ice is due to Pytheas, a Greek sailor who encountered it southeast of Iceland in 325 BC (Sturm and Massom, 2010). Later encounters were made by Celtic monks in the northwest North Atlantic in AD 550 and 800 (Weeks, 1998). In the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, whalers and sealers operated in Arctic waters of the North Atlantic, Barents Sea, and Greenland Sea and Scoresby (1820), a whaling captain, published a notable book on ice and ocean conditions in the Greenland Sea.
Martin Frobisher first reported the existence of frozen ground in Baffin Island in 1577 according to Muller (2008). Tsytovich (1966) noted that Russian military reports published in 1642 contain the first mention of frozen ground in Siberia.
Engineering studies of freshwater ice began in the mid-nineteenth century in Eastern Europe. The flooding of Buda and Pest in 1838 led to studies of ice conditions on the River Danube during the winters of 1847/1848 and 1848/1849 by Arenstein (1849). Ashton (1986) and Barnes (1906) note that there were many nineteenth-century studies of ice formation and ice jams. Ireland (1792) mentions “ground ice” rising up from the bottom of the River Thames and there were other eighteenth-century references to it in France and Germany.