What happens when the ice disappears?

In the age of global warming, one thing is certain: There will be less ice and snow. Glaciers, ice shelves, and sea ice are melting away, and there has been a dramatic drop-off in the number of snow-covered days around the world, as documented by the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab. Since 1967, spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has dwindled by about three million square kilometers.

The loss of Earth's reflective white surfaces will intensify the spiral of global warming. Darker surfaces absorb more incoming solar radiation. That warmth delays the onset of winter and hastens the arrival of spring. In the Arctic, the decline of the cryosphere is affecting fundamental biological cycles like the reproduction of carbon-storing plankton. And it may also be affecting the jet stream, making weather more extreme across the Northern Hemisphere.

But the realms of ice and snow aren't confined to the North and South Poles — they also include the world of frozen tundra and boreal forests, as well as snow-covered mountains and highlands, especially the glacial regions of the Andes, Himalaya, Alps, and Rockies. The meltdown in these areas is affecting every ecosystem imaginable.

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