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The Disappearing Cryosphere: Impacts and Ecosystem Responses to Rapid Cryosphere Loss

The Disappearing Cryosphere: Impacts and Ecosystem Responses to Rapid Cryosphere Loss

The cryosphere—the portion of the Earth’s surface where water is in solid form for at least one month of the year—has been shrinking in response to climate warming. The extents of sea ice, snow, and glaciers, for example, have been decreasing. In response, the ecosystems within the cryosphere and those that depend on the cryosphere have been changing. We identify two principal aspects of ecosystem-level responses to cryosphere loss: (1) trophodynamic alterations resulting from the loss of habitat and species loss or replacement and (2) changes in the rates and mechanisms of biogeochemical storage and cycling of carbon and nutrients, caused by changes in physical forcings or ecological community functioning. These changes affect biota in positive or negative ways, depending on how they interact with the cryosphere. The important outcome, however, is the change and the response the human social system (infrastructure, food, water, recreation) will have to that change.

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