Climate change causes further cryospheric hazards: study

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LANZHOU, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- Climate change could lead to more cryospheric hazards, posing extensive threats to society, states a recent study from Chinese researchers.

The cryosphere mainly refers to glaciers, permafrost, snow cover and sea ice as these components are continuously distributed below the freezing point with a certain thickness.

Storing more than 70 percent of the world's freshwater resources, the cryosphere plays an important role in supporting key elements of the Earth's life system, such as water resources, energy and food security.

These components are sensitive to climate warming, and changes in the cryosphere can lead to serious hazards to human society. Although the hazards attracted much public attention, there is still no synthetic review for the changes of cryospheric hazards in the past decades.

By analyzing phenomena, mechanisms and impacts of different types of cryospheric hazards, researchers from Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources (NIEER) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou University and Lanzhou University of Technology enumerated possible cryospheric hazards that could occur due to climate change, and further gave suggestions on approaches to mitigate these hazards in the future.

Climate change can lead to a series of hazards, including arctic coastal erosion, rise in sea levels, avalanches and glacial flooding and collapse, among others.

For example, arctic permafrost accounts for one-third of the global coastline, and coastline erosion directly reflects land-ocean interactions. The irreversible coastal and land loss poses a considerable threat to native, industrial, scientific and even military communities, according to the study.

Coastal areas are where most human activities occur at high latitudes, and their erosion can lead to landslides and further affect the safety of major construction projects such as harbors, pipelines and rail construction. Coastal erosion also plays an important role in the transport of sediments, organic carbon and nutrients in the Arctic Basin.

Therefore, experts believe understanding the changes and consequences of the cryosphere has become a critical step toward developing human adaptation strategies in a warming world.

"We concluded the cryosphere is shrinking, while cryospheric hazards will likely increase in a warming climate," said Ding Yongjian, a researcher with NIEER, who led the research team.

Ding emphasized that the cryospheric hazards remain highly uncertain, while climate change and the destabilization of the cryosphere will exacerbate social and economic risks.

Researchers, therefore, suggest that it is important to establish a high-quality database of the distribution of sea ice and icebergs using multi-sources data, and the development of coupled models will increase the prediction accuracy of such hazards.

Results of the study have been published in the journal Earth-Science Reviews. Enditem

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