Climate change is happening faster and in a dramatically more visible way in the Earth’s cryosphere: the snow and ice-dominated regions around both the North and South Poles, and in high mountains. Whether high latitude or high altitude, temperatures in these places already have warmed by at least twice the global average. As a result, the ecosystems and communities in these fragile and beautiful places are disintegrating, in some cases right beneath our feet, as ice and ground (permafrost) melt away.
But the greatest threat of this rapidly-warming cryosphere lies no longer in these regions themselves. Instead, the most catastrophic and wide-ranging impact of our disintegrating cryosphere is on the entire Earth: sea-level rise from melting glaciers and ice sheets; loss of snowpack for water needs; polar seas and fisheries whose cold waters acidify faster, with damage to polar shell-building animals already today; carbon releases from permafrost the size of a top-20 greenhouse gas emitter, plus shrinking sea ice in the Arctic at all times of year: both impacts that are warming the planet faster and further.
Most of these impacts from a disintegrating cryosphere cannot be rolled back, even should we manage to pull temperatures down again. Our only workable option is never to let temperatures get that high at all. Protection of the cryosphere is not only about protecting the peoples
and species that live there. It is about protecting all of us.