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Simply Scientific: Albedo Effect

by Jad Abukasm January 7, 2020
Simply Scientific: Albedo Effect

Is it snowing? Raining? Like, is it winter? What’s happening?

Although snow can be beautiful at times, and a pain for the vast majority of us at others, fluctuating temperatures have changed in the past few decades, affecting snow, posing a risk to our ice caps, and playing a part in global warming. While climate-change skeptics will keep ranting in 2020 about “fake news,” saying “everything is fine” while storming Twitter with the new #WW3, let’s just hope enough people decide to care more about the environment as their new year’s resolution.

But why care so much about snow?

It’s not really about that dirty slush splattering everywhere in cities, but more about Arctic territories that consist mostly of huge patches of ice – think about Greenland, for example. In these areas, recent temperatures are shown to be increasing twice as fast as the rest of the world. Scientists refer to this as “Arctic amplification,” and it is the consequence of shrinking ice caps.

The albedo effect is what has been countering Arctic amplification for millions of years. Ice caps, being white, reflect large amounts of the Sun’s energy back into space. In other iceless parts of the world, the energy is absorbed into the ground, resulting in increased heat. Ultimately, the coolness created by the albedo effect balances out the global increase heat of our planet. Unfortunately for us, those ice caps, either on land or floating on the ocean – like those around the North and South Poles – have decreased by a third to a half since the pre-industrial era.

This creates a rapidly-increasing cycle where the more ice is melting, the more the temperature increases, and so on and so forth. I’ll leave it there for you to figure out what will ultimately happen.

So, snow and ice, while being a nightmare for some, is actually a good weapon to fight climate change.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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