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Volume 27 Issue 8 (August 2017)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (1.1MB)

Savor the Cryosphere

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Patrick A. Burkhart1, Richard B. Alley2, Lonnie G. Thompson3, James D. Balog4, Paul E. Baldauf5, Gregory S. Baker6

1 Dept. of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania 16057, USA
2 Dept. of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
3 School of Earth Sciences, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA
4 Earth Vision Institute/Extreme Ice Survey, 2334 Broadway Street, Suite D, Boulder, Colorado 80304, USA
5 Dept. of Marine and Environmental Sciences, Nova Southeastern University, 3301 College Ave., Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33314, USA
6 Dept. of Geology, University of Kansas, 1475 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, Kansas 66045, USA


This article provides concise documentation of the ongoing retreat of glaciers, along with the implications that the ice loss presents, as well as suggestions for geoscience educators to better convey this story to both students and citizens. We present the retreat of glaciers—the loss of ice—as emblematic of the recent, rapid contraction of the cryosphere. Satellites are useful for assessing the loss of ice across regions with the passage of time. Ground-based glaciology, particularly through the study of ice cores, can record the history of environmental conditions present during the existence of a glacier. Repeat photography vividly displays the rapid retreat of glaciers that is characteristic across the planet. This loss of ice has implications to rising sea level, greater susceptibility to dryness in places where people rely upon rivers delivering melt water resources, and to the destruction of natural environmental archives that were held within the ice. Warming of the atmosphere due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases released by the combustion of fossil fuels is causing this retreat. We highlight multimedia productions that are useful for teaching this story effectively. As geoscience educators, we attempt to present the best scholarship as accurately and eloquently as we can, to address the core challenge of conveying the magnitude of anthropogenic impacts, while also encouraging optimistic determination on the part of students, coupled to an increasingly informed citizenry. We assert that understanding human perturbation of nature, then choosing to engage in thoughtful science-based decision-making, is a wise choice. This topic comprised “Savor the Cryosphere,” a Pardee Keynote Symposium at the 2015 Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, for which the GSA recorded supporting interviews and a webinar.

Manuscript received 1 Apr. 2016; Revised manuscript received 1 Sept. 2016; Manuscript accepted 13 Dec. 2016; Posted online 30 Mar. 2017

© The Geological Society of America, 2017.