Global data gaps in our knowledge of the terrestrial cryosphere
The IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate identified major gaps in our knowledge of snow and glacier ice in the terrestrial cryosphere. These gaps are limiting our ability to predict the future of the energy and water balance of the Earth’s surface, which in turn affect regional climate, biodiversity and biomass, the freezing and thawing of permafrost, the seasonal supply of water for one sixth of the global population, the rate of global sea level rise and the risk of riverine and coastal flooding. Snow and ice are highly susceptible to climate change but although their spatial extents are routinely monitored, the fundamental property of their water content is remarkably poorly observed. Specifically, there is a profound lack of basic but problematic observations of the amount of water supplied by snowfall and of the volume of water stored in glaciers. As a result, the climatological precipitation of the mountain cryosphere is, for example, biased low by 50-100%, and biases in the volume of glacier ice are unknown but are likely to be large. More and better basic observations of snow and ice water content are urgently needed to constrain climate models of the cryosphere, and this requires a transformation in the capabilities of snow-monitoring and glacier-surveying instruments. I describe new solutions to this long-standing problem that if deployed widely could achieve this transformation.
Authors: Pritchard, Hamish D. ORCID record for Hamish D. Pritchard