In this guide, we discuss the ice on Earth.
We outline how much ice might be left on Earth, how much has been lost over time, whether we might run out, and other relevant information.
Summary – The Ice On Earth
Different Types & Forms Of Ice
We list the different forms ice can take on Earth in the guid below
Ice sheets and glaciers are two of the most common for permanent ice
Why Ice Is Important On Earth
In the guide below, we list the various functions of ice that make it important on Earth
Where Is Most Of The Ice In The World Found?
The Arctic & Antarctica has the most ice, followed by Greenland
Smaller amounts of ice are found in other regions of the world
How Much Ice Have We Lost Over Time?
Some estimates indicate that the Arctic has lost around 50% of it’s year round ice since roughly 1979
Other estimates also indicate that Greenland is currently losing more ice per year that Antarctica
Reasons For Ice Melt & Ice Loss
We list some of the reported reasons in the guide below
How Much Ice Is Left On Earth?
Roughly 2% of the Earth’s water (which covers about 70% of Earth’s surface) is ice, mostly in the form of glaciers
It can be difficult to fully measure other ice metrics like total ice volume, thickness, etc, but technology like satellites and lasers are being used to do this
Will All The Ice On Earth Melt?
There might be several factors that impact how much ice we lose in the future, and we’ve outlined these factors in the guide below
One report though indicates that we may never completely lose all the ice on Earth
When Will The Remaining Ice On Earth Melt?
There’s a range of estimates for when the remaining ice on Earth, or the year round ice in the Arctic will melt.
Estimates range from the middle of this century, to thousands of years from now, to uncertainty because of what we currently don’t understand about how ice moves on Earth.
Earth melt may also be more correlated with Earth’s climate and temperature than time/years.
What Happens If Ice Continues To Melt In The Future?
We list a range of reports below that discuss the various potential effects of continued ice melt on Earth in the future
Is Sea Ice Loss Irreversible?
One report indicates it’s not
How To Prevent Further Ice Melt & Loss In The Future
Natural climate variability may be uncontrollable
However, various reports indicate that limiting global emissions might help
Researchers are also attempting to understand better how ice moves on Earth, and NASA are trying to measure the amount of ice on Earth more accurately – both of which might help us manage ice better in the future
The Amount Of Sea Ice Varies Throughout The Year
As seasons change throughout the year, from colder months to warmer months, the amount of ice in the sea increases and decreases
Ice Ages & Non Ice Ages Impact The Amount Of Ice On Earth Throughout Over Time
During ice ages, there’s more ice and snow on Earth. Another ice age at some point would increase the amount of ice on Earth
What Is Ice?
Ice is water in a frozen, solid form
Types & Forms Of Ice On Earth
Types & Forms Of Ice
Some of the different types and forms of ice on Earth include but aren’t limited to:
Glaciers, ice sheets (and ice fields), snow, sea ice and icebergs, permafrost, frazil ice and ice that forms in freshwater bodies, sleet, hail, and more
nature.com lists some of the different forms that ice can take
inverse.com explains what polar ice caps are and where they are found in their report
What Type Or Form Of Ice Is Most Common On Earth?
Most (99.5%) of the permanent ice in the world is locked up in ice sheets and glaciers (antarcticglaciers.org)
Why Is Ice Important On Earth?
Some of the general reasons why ice is important on Earth include:
– The cryosphere (snow, ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and permafrost) helps regulate the climate and heat/energy balance on the land on Earth
It does this because ice has a high reflectivity. The more ice there is, the more solar radiation is reflected back into the atmosphere (and away from the Earth’s surface), and this prevents Earth’s surface from absorbing as much heat. This helps keep polar regions cool for example.
energyeducation.ca mentions how this is the case with the Antarctic ice sheet
– Sea ice helps regulate the temperature of oceans
From ucdavis.edu ‘Sea ice also keeps air cool by forming an insulating barrier between the cold air above it and the warmer water below it’
Sea ice is an important component of the climate system because it regulates the transfer of heat and momentum between the atmosphere and the ocean.
The presence of snow on top of the sea ice exaggerates both the insulating and the reflecting effects of sea ice.
It also provides a barrier to the exchange of freshwater, gases and aerosols (tiny, airborne solid and liquid particles)
– Some animals, plant life and organisms depend on ice environments to live and survive
From metoffice.gov.uk: ‘Sea ice is also a major component of polar ecosystems because plants and animals at all levels of the food chain live in or around sea ice’
– Snowpacks in mountain ranges serve a range of uses and functions
[In some mountain ranges] … snowpacks that release water gradually during warmer months serve as the primary source of drinking and irrigation water [and provide] an important source of hydroelectric power (nasa.gov)
– Ice found near rocks can help with the process of weathering of rocks
– Ice stores freshwater
– Other functions of ice
metoffice.gov.uk lists a range of other effects of sea ice on oceans and Earth’s systems
– Arctic ice specifically
Arctic sea ice plays a major role in the Earth’s global systems.
It keeps the polar regions cool, influences climate, and provides a habitat for many animals.
Where Is The Most Ice On Earth Found?
Antarctica has the largest amount of ice (found in ice sheets and glaciers), followed by Greenland
There’s also some ice in mountain ranges, and frozen soils around the world
[Majority of glacier ice is in Antarctica, with Greenland second] The remaining 2 to 3% is found in other high latitude areas, such as parts of northern Canada and Alaska, and in high mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Alps (discoveringantarctica.org.uk)
[The] Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets [are two of the most important ice sheets on Earth] (climate.nasa.gov)
Today, there are only two ice sheets in the world: the Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet (energyeducation.ca)
Snow, ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and permafrost, known as the cryosphere [perform critical functions on Earth, and] includes frozen soils in Alaska, the snow on top of the Himalayas, as well as all the ice in the polar regions (climate.nasa.gov)
The polar ice cap [are the] massive layers of ice and snow that cover antarctica, greenland, and portions of Canada and Russia (inverse.com)
From nature.com: ‘The North and South Poles of the Earth are covered with ice sheets. In fact, almost the entire continent of Antarctica is covered with ice’
How Much Ice Have We Lost, & How Much Ice Has Melted Over Time?
Estimates generally indicate that:
– The area of ice in the Arctic ocean has been reduced by about 50% in the last half a century or so
– Greenland is currently losing more ice per year than Antarctica
How Much Arctic Ice Has Been Lost?
The annual minimum area of sea ice in the Arctic is nearly 50% smaller now than it was in 1979 [and …] The area of Arctic sea ice is not only shrinking, but what is there is getting thinner.
Historically, the Arctic Ocean was covered by ice year-round, but today this area is about half of what it used to be
How Much Sea Ice Has Been Lost?
When it comes to sea ice, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone (worldwidelife.org)
How Much Ice Is Lost Per Year In Greenland & Antarctica?
Greenland has been losing about 280 gigatons of ice per year on average, and Antarctica has lost almost 120 gigatons a year with indications that both melt rates are increasing (climate.nasa.gov)
Why Are We Losing Ice, & Why Is Ice Melting?
Some of the key reasons mentioned for ice melt and ice loss are:
– Warmer ocean and air temperatures
– Unsustainable rates of snow and ice production vs melting
What’s worth mentioning is that many sources say that emissions from humans play a role in warming climates and temperatures, but other sources indicate that natural climate variability has a role too
Arctic sea ice is melting … because ocean and air temperatures are getting warmer
[The ocean is getting warmer from absorbing heat that carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases are trapping in the air/atmosphere]
It’s normal for Arctic ice to melt and break off from glaciers in a process called calving, but the rate at which both are occurring is outpacing the production of new snow and ice [and, this is what’s causing a loss in the amount Arctic ice and snow]
How Much Ice Is Left Of Earth … How Much Of The Earth’s Surface Is Ice?
It might be difficult to fully measure the amount of ice left on Earth when it comes to metrics like ice thickness, volume, and so on.
For this reason, measuring the full extent of ice on Earth may have some uncertainties.
Organisations like NASA are currently using technology like satellites and lasers to give us a better idea of the full extent of ice
However, roughly 2% of the water on Earth’s surface area is ice, with the rest of water bing in oceans and freshwater bodies
Water covers more than 70 percent of the Earths surface [and] Slightly more than two percent of the Earths water is frozen into ice; almost all of this ice is in glaciers
There is still some uncertainty about the full volume of glaciers and ice caps on Earth (usgs.gov)
Will We Run Out Of Ice On Earth? Will All The Ice On Earth Melt?
Some reports indicate we won’t ever run out of all ice on Earth.
Other reports indicate that whether or not ice on Earth continues to melt depends on different factors such as natural climate variability, and annual emissions from humans.
The temperature and climate on Earth in the future may play a major role in how much ice we lose.
Factors That Might Impact How Much Ice Melts In The Future
scientificamerican.com for example explains that Arctic sea ice cover isn’t related to time, but rather is ‘… a function of natural climate variability and anthropogenic warming caused by increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations’
scientificamerican.com also mentions that ‘… the probability of losing all the [Arctic sea ice] is greatly reduced if the [global temperature warming] is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius [… whereas] ice free conditions are likely if we allow the warming to increase to two degrees C’
We Might Not Ever Lose All The Ice On Earth
… all the ice [on Earth] is not going to melt. The Antarctic ice cap, where most of the ice exists, has survived much warmer times [than now]
When Will The Ice On Earth Melt? How Many Years Until It Melts?
There’s a range of estimates on when ice in the Arctic and the world might melt.
The estimates below range anywhere from just before the middle of the century, up to thousands of years from now.
One report even indicates that we don’t truly know when or how ice will melt.
Another report indicates that when ice melts is related more to temperature/climate warming than time.
Short Term Estimates
[Sea ice might be impacted by the amount of global emissions ever year, with some estimates indicating an ice free September could happen in the next 20 to 25 years from 2019 with current global emission rates] (scientificamerican.com)
Even if we significantly curb emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100.
Scientists project that if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the Arctic could be ice free in the summer as soon as the year 2040 as ocean and air temperatures continue to rise rapidly
The latest models are basically showing that no matter what emissions scenario we follow, we’re going to lose summer [sea] ice cover before the middle of the century (theguardian.com)
Around 2060, models suggest, Antarctica could reach an inflection point where ice losses and sea level rise shoot up (nationalgeographic.com)
Mid Terms Estimates
[Ice free September conditions in the Arctic are already happening in 2020 in some climate model simulations, but aren’t] happening until well beyond 2100 in others (scientificamerican.com)
… sea ice may decrease by 25% within the next century (energyeducation.ca)
Long Term Estimates
… for polar ice caps to melt completely, it’s not going to happen] even over 100 years — it will take thousands and thousands of years (inverse.com)
We Don’t Know How Quickly Ice Caps Will Melt
amnh.org indicates that we may not know how quickly some ice caps in the world will disappear because ‘We do not know how much or how quickly this could happen, because we do not know exactly how it will happen’
amnh.org also indicates that we don’t know for sure what impact melting ice caps will have on sea level rise, and ‘… a number of scientists are now trying to answer [these questions] by studying how ice moves’
Ice Melting Is Related More To Warming Temperature/Climate Than Time
[One estimation indicates that] we lose just more than four million square kilometers of sea ice for each degree C of global warming [so, loss of ice and melting of ice relates more to warming than time] (scientificamerican.com)
What Happens If The Ice On Earth Melts?
The effects described in the ‘Why Is Ice Important On Earth’ section would change if ice continues to melt
As just one example, there would be less ice to help regulate climate systems on Earth and reflect solar radiation back into the atmosphere
Other reports below have their own explanations and description on what might happen as ice melts into the future.
Sea level rise is a common effect mentioned of ice melt, with one report indicating that because of gravitational pull, sea level rise won’t be the same everywhere
One report from theguardian.com provides a mix of positive and negative effects of melting ice up until this point.
climate.nasa.gov lists some of the effects of melting ice that satellite data has observed over the last few decades
discoveringantarctica.org.uk what the response of the Antarctic glaciers might be to climate change
worldwildlife.org lists some of the potential effects of melting glaciers and sea ice on sea level rise, weather patterns, and humans and wild life
amnh.org gives an estimate of that sea levels would rise about 70 meters if all the ice ‘… covering Antarctica , Greenland, and in mountain glaciers around the world were to melt’
usgs.gov indicates that ‘[If] the full volume of glaciers and ice caps on Earth … every coastal city on the planet [would be flooded]
inverse.com provides a detailed explanation of what might happen in the world and across society if the polar ice caps started melting at a rapid rate
energyeducation.ca outlines different effects of melting ice sheets in the Antarctic
[Compared to melting glaciers and ice sheets, melting of sea ice does not & won’t contribute to sea level rise, because sea ice is not a store] of frozen water on land that add water to the ocean when they melt
Although theguardian.com mentions some of the negative effects of melting ice up until 2020, they also mention there were some benefits, such as easier access to resources and minerals in ice covered areas, and some increases in tourism
Melting ice caps in some areas could also introduce new species to the area
Is Sea Ice Loss Irreversible?
scientificamerican.com notes that ‘Sea ice loss is not irreversible’
How To Prevent Ice From Melting, & Prevent The Earth Losing More Ice
Some ice will be lost due to seasonal change, and some due to natural climate variability on Earth. These factors can’t be controlled.
However, scientificamerican.com indicates that summer ice over the Arctic might be better preserved by humans if we limit the amount of CO2 we emit every year
There’s also a number of things NASA is doing with satellites and lasers to help us better understand how ice sheets are changing, the thickness of sea ice, and other critical ice metrics
Sea Ice In The Arctic & Antarctic Change Throughout The Year
It’s worth noting that there will naturally be more ice and less ice in the Arctic and Antarctic at different times throughout the year.
metoffice.gov.uk indicates that this is because of the change in daylight and solar heating these regions receive throughout the year
For example: ‘As the Earth’s surface at the poles warms in summer more than half the sea ice melts … [and there’s increased sea ice cover throughout winter where …] At least 15% of the ocean is covered by sea ice at some point during the year’
How Ice Ages Have Impacted The Amount Of Ice On Earth
Whether we are in an ice age or not impacts how much ice is on Earth at any point.
So, on a timeline of Earth, if we were to enter another ice age, it might be accurate to say there will be more ice on Earth.
During past ice ages, continental ice sheets like the ones at the poles covered huge portions of North America and Europe.
… during the Pleistocene Ice Age, almost one third of the Earth’s land was covered by glacial ice. Today, about one tenth of the Earth’s land is covered by glacial ice (energyeducation.ca)