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Icelights: Answers to your burning questions about ice and climate
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About the Cryosphere
What is the Cryosphere?
When scientists talk about the cryosphere, they mean the places on Earth where water is in its solid form, frozen into ice or snow. Read more ...
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Weather and climate patterns in the Arctic can influence weather and climate around the world, particularly in the northern Hemisphere.
The Arctic region acts as a heat sink for the Earth: the Arctic loses more heat to space than it absorbs from the sun's rays. In contrast, lower latitudes get more heat than they lose to the atmosphere. Warm air and water move into the Arctic from tropical and temperate regions. Some of this heat then escapes through the Arctic atmosphere. Over a whole year, the heat gain in lower latitudes gets balanced out, on average, by heat loss in the polar regions.
Sometimes when a winter snowstorm or cold snap hits temperate regions, people refer to the frigid temperatures as "Arctic." Weather patterns do in fact move from the Arctic into other regions, and vice versa. A weather system that forms in the Arctic can move south to bring cold temperatures (a cold front) and snow to other areas. Arctic blizzards can cause whiteouts, making life for people and animals difficult.
Some recent studies have shown that long-term changes in Arctic sea ice and climate may have impacts on weather patterns in other parts of the world, but so far the research remains in its early stages.
This figure schematically represents the mean annual energy budget of the Arctic Ocean and atmosphere.
R = Runoff (freshwater), L = Longwave radiation, S = Shortwave radiation, O = Ocean heat, M = Melt (snow and ice), P = Precipitation, T = Temperature (heat transfer), and q = moisture.
—Credit: N Untersteiner 1993.
Photo of a storm over the arctic taken with the MODIS instrument. Notice the large swirl (known as a cyclone) located over the arctic ocean. Greenland is located in the bottom left of the image.