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Cryosphere Theme

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The Cryosphere Theme has been approved by the Partners

The cryosphere is an integral part of the global climate system through its influence on surface energy and moisture fluxes, clouds, precipitation, hydrology, and atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Variability in the cryosphere has broad ranging socio-economic impacts, including land and sea transportation, water resources, sea level change, wildlife, and recreation.

The Cryosphere Theme addresses observations of snow, solid precipitation, lake and river ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, permafrost, and seasonally frozen ground. The Theme will create a framework for improved coordination of observations collected by research, long-term monitoring, and operational programmes, achieve better availability and accessibility of cryospheric information for operational services and research, strengthen national and international institutional structures responsible for cryospheric observations, and increase resources for ensuring the transition of research-based observing projects into sustained observations and practical applications. The challenge of the Theme is to determine how observations should be coordinated and developed, and to enhance the observation and monitoring of the cryosphere in support of process studies, model evaluation, and change detection.


The Cryosphere Theme promotes a cryosphere observing system, CryOS, that includes more than simply measurements of snow and ice properties. It must have all of the following five components: satellite remote sensing instruments, networks of ground-based instrumentation, aircraft-based measurements, modelling, assimilation, and reanalysis systems, and a data management system.

Satellite instruments are essential for delivering sustained, consistent observations of the global cryosphere. No one all-encompassing sensor exists; rather, the combination and synthesis of data from different yet complementary sensors is essential, and underlines the critical importance of maintaining key synergetic elements of the system. Equally important are surface and airborne observations, in that they provide key data that cannot currently be measured from space, more detailed information in critical areas, and observations with which to calibrate and validate satellite retrievals. Satellites in turn are a key to extending local in situ measurements. CryOS needs to foster the evaluation of the cryosphere in models, to disentangle the role of the cryosphere in climate and its predictability as simulated by climate models, and to stimulate improvements in the parameterization of cryospheric processes. The data and information management component must facilitate the flow of data and information in cryospheric research, long-term scientific monitoring, and operational monitoring. However, it must go beyond the traditional metadata service or web portal by encouraging the development of tools to combine all types of data, including model fields, from diverse and distributed data centers.

IGOS-Cryosphere Theme and the International Polar Year

A major undertaking in the area of cryospheric research and observations in the near-term perspective is the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY). The Theme developed recommendations for the IPY activities associated with the cryosphere, including maintenaning existing systems to monitor the cryosphere and an assessment of gaps in the cryospheric observing system, developing a global snapshot of the cryosphere during the IPY, establishing “supersites” that would include cryospheric observations in their set of measurements, extending the the WCRP Coordinated Enhanced Observing Period (CEOP) activities over the polar regions, establishing the initial elements of the Arctic Ocean observing system, and starting the implementation of the Arctic HYCOS project.


The proposal to initiate the Theme was put forward by the Climate and Cryosphere Project (CliC) of the WCRP and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) of ICSU. It was approved by the IGOS Partners in May 2004. The Cryosphere Theme Report was presented to, and approved by, the IGOS Partners at IGOS-P-14, 30 May 2007. The Theme is now in the implementation phase.

The IGOS-Cryosphere team

Dr. Jeffrey Key (NOAA/NESDIS) is the theme Chair. Dr. Mark Drinkwater (ESA) and Jinro Ukita (Chiba University) are Vice-Chairs. CliC provides overall management of the Theme activities. The core team and other contributors of the writing team are listed here.

Further Information

Website: http://igos-cryosphere.org

Report, July 2007 (PDF)

Poster (1 page; PDF)

Presentation to IGOS Partners at IGOS-P-14, 30 May 2007 (PPT)

Updated on: 27 September, 2005