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Ice matters

(11 December 2015 © ESA) The satellite age has revolutionised our understanding of Earth, giving us accurate information to help critical agreements on climate change such as at the current COP21 conference in Paris. Diminishing polar ice is one of the most visible indicators of change, but how much have we learnt over the last decades?

Spectacular feats of polar exploration actually go back to the 1800’s when early expeditions offered a rare glimpse into these icy regions. However, it is only relatively recently that we have understood the importance of ice in the climate system and have evidence that these frozen expanses are becoming a casualty of climate change.

Arctic sea ice, for example, is particularly sensitive to our warming climate and is often cited as a barometer of global change.

Ice that forms and melts in the ocean only has a very tiny effect on sea level – the melting of ice sheets and glaciers that overlie land are the main causes of sea-level rise, along with the thermal expansion of the water.

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