Ice covers almost 15 million square kilometers of Earth’s land surface. That’s a lot of land! It helps keep Earth’s climate in balance (not too hot and not too cold). And it keeps Earth’s oceans at the levels we’ve come to expect (not too high and not too low). In other words, Earth’s ice is important to all living things.
So last summer, I decided to go check out some ice. I hopped on a plane to Iceland, then into a rental car, then into a 4-wheel drive jeep, then onto a skidoo to visit the Vatnajokull ice cap. It was AMAZING!
Once you get up into the mountains, you see the ENORMOUS field of ice – very beautiful, very windy and cold, and VERY BRIGHT. Check out the video I took while on the top…. (Sorry about all the noise in the video. It’s very windy on an ice cap on top of a mountain!)
That very white ice reflects the sun’s rays. The sun’s heat bounces back into the atmosphere, rather than being absorbed by the earth. That helps keep the planet from getting too warm.
You can see this for yourself by shining a light toward hard-packed snow, and then shining a light toward a dark surface (such as black construction paper). See how the light is reflected off the snow, but not reflected off the darker surface?
While in Iceland, I also flew over the Vatnajokull ice cap to get a bird’s-eye-view.
From the air, you begin to understand the enormous size of this sheet of ice.
The problem is that the ice is melting. Scientists have evidence that Earth’s ice is melting. Global warming is the cause. Air pollution causes the world’s temperatures to rise. The warmer temperatures melt the ice.
The more Earth’s ice melts, the more heat our planet absorbs from the sun. (Apologies again for the wind noise.)
The less white ice we have to reflect the heat, the more Earth heats up. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Heating→ Melting → Heating→ Melting→Heating→ Melting→……
We need Earth’s ice to keep our planet’s temperatures close to what they are now. All living things depend on Earth’s ice.
It’s important that we do what we can to reduce the amount of pollution we put in the air. When we reduce air pollution, we slow down global warming. That will slow down the melting of Earth’s ice. For ideas on ways you can help, click here.
At a recent science conference for teachers, a glaciologist showed us an ice core he collected from Antarctica. An engineer invented the drill that allowed the scientist to drill deep down to gather ice from thousands of years ago.
Can you see the bubbles in the ice core? What do you think caused these bubbles? What important information do they hold?
Click here for more information on ice cores.