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Physics of the cryosphere

The cryosphere — the part of Earth’s climate system consisting of snow and ice — is undergoing rapid and massive perturbations due to planetary warming. For instance, almost half the summer Arctic sea-ice cover has been lost over recent decades; February 2023 saw the extent of Antarctic sea ice reach a record low. Such melting has ripple effects and feedbacks on the climate system that are powerful and can travel far, challenging efforts at modelling and prediction. Five researchers discuss how diverse physics ideas can help better understand the cryosphere.

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Authors and Affiliations



Alison F. Banwell is a Research Scientist in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), part of the University of Colorado Boulder. She has a PhD in Glaciology from the University of Cambridge (UK). Her research focuses on understanding changes in Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheet and ice-shelf melt, hydrology and dynamics using satellite remote sensing, fieldwork and process-scale modelling.

Justin C. Burton is an Associate Professor of Physics at Emory University. His research targets problems at the intersection of soft matter, fluid mechanics and geosciences. He is a past recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award and leads several K-12 STEM outreach and education activities in the Atlanta area.

Claudia Cenedese is a Senior Scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MA, USA). She earned a PhD at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of the University of Cambridge (UK) after an MS + BS in Environmental Engineering at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. The focus of her research is to improve our understanding of how mesoscale and submesoscale processes, such as buoyant plumes generated by melting glaciers and icebergs, influence and modify the general circulation of the ocean.

Kenneth Golden is a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the University of Utah, with interests in sea ice, climate, polar ecology and composite materials. He has been on 18 polar expeditions and given over 500 invited lectures. Golden is a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the American Mathematical Society, the Electromagnetics Academy and the Explorers Club.

Jan Åström has a PhD in theoretical physics from Åbo Akademi university, and worked for nine years as a group leader in material physics at the University of Jyväskylä, before joining CSC, the Finnish Super-computer centre. J.Å. is a developer of scientific codes for mostly material physics, biophysical and geophysical applications.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alison F. Banwell, Justin C. Burton, Claudia Cenedese, Kenneth Golden or Jan Åström.

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Banwell, A.F., Burton, J.C., Cenedese, C. et al. Physics of the cryosphere. Nat Rev Phys 5, 446–449 (2023).

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