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Earth’s cryosphere averages net loss of 87,000 sq. km per year, study shows

By Stephanie Liu, Writer

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — A 37-year-long study shows that the Earth’s fluctuating cryosphere – the area of the planet covered in ice and snow – averages a net loss of 87,000 square kilometres each year, with researchers attributing it to climate change.

The study, published in a journal by the American Geophysical Union, was done by researchers who calculated the size of the cryosphere on a daily basis between the years of 1979 and 2016 and later averaged out the yearly estimates.

“The cryosphere is one of the most sensitive climate indicators and the first one to demonstrate a changing world,” Xiaoqing Peng, co-author of the study and physical geographer at Lanzhou University, said in a media release. “It’s change in size represents a major global change, rather than a regional or local issue.”

Through their analysis, researchers in the study found that the Northern Hemisphere was impacted the most, decreasing in size by approximately 102,000 sq. km a year. But, in the Southern Hemisphere, the cryosphere actually increased in size by an average of 14,000 sq. km a year.

Still, researchers said that the overall shrinking of the cryosphere was a signal of climate change.

When looking at how long the cryosphere was frozen for, the study shows that a large proportion of it remained frozen for a shorter period of time over the years.

“The average first day of freezing now occurs about 3.6 days later than in 1979, and the ice thaws about 5.7 days later,” the study said.

The cryosphere is intended to reflect sunlight off its surface to cool the Earth, therefore the study says that the shrinking of this area could lead to global changes in air temperatures, sea levels, and ocean currents.

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