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The chemical and physical properties preserved in the Earth's cryosphere (glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets) provide proxy records that contribute prominently to our knowledge of the Earth's past climate, the ultimate yardstick against which the significance of present and projected climate change will be assessed. These records continuously advance our understanding of the mechanisms controlling the Earth's complex climate system and provide an independent test for climate models used to project the future consequences of human activities. The ice core proxy records now reveal that the climate system is experiencing both rapid and unprecedented changes on time scales that range from decades to centuries. There is concern that the Greenland ice sheet may now be losing mass and contributing to sea level rise. Yet the Antarctic ice sheet may be gaining mass and offsetting meltwater from Greenland. Additional monitoring and modeling are essential. In contrast, observations from widely dispersed parts of the globe - from the glacier fields of Alaska to the remnants of ice atop Mount Kilimanjaro - confirm that most of the remaining ice on the Earth is rapidly disappearing. The anticipated impacts of this rapid and extensive loss of high mountain glaciers include regional hydrological disruptions in agriculture and power generation, a modest contribution to sea level rise and the eventual loss of unique paleoclimate histories by virtue of those ice cores that will never be recovered.