A sunset reflects on snow in the arctic

Chasing the light: Sandia study finds new clues about warming in the Arctic

March 12, 2024 8:00 am Published by

The Arctic, Earth’s icy crown, is experiencing a climate crisis like no other. It’s heating up at a furious pace — four times faster than the rest of our planet. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are pulling back the curtain on the reduction of sunlight reflectivity, or albedo, which is supercharging the Arctic’s warming.

The scientists are not armed with parkas and shovels. Instead, they have tapped into data from GPS satellite radiometers, capturing the sunlight bouncing off the Arctic. This data dive could be the key to cracking the Arctic amplification code.

Arctic Albedo Animation

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are taking a closer look at what’s causing a decrease in sunlight reflectivity, or albedo, in the Arctic. Watch an animation showing the albedo process. (Animation by Andrew Dormody) 

“The uneven warming in the Arctic is both a scientific curiosity and a pressing concern, leading us to question why this landscape has been changing so dramatically,” said Erika Roesler, an atmospheric and climate scientist at Sandia.

Previous studies have suggested that sea-ice albedo feedbacks are likely driving Arctic amplification. These albedo feedbacks can be broken down into two main areas. First, there’s an overall reduction in sea ice, leading to more exposure of the dark ocean. This absorbs more sunlight than snow-covered ice and raises temperatures. The second factor is the reflectivity of the remaining sea ice, or local albedo, which includes ponding water on ice due to melting.

Read the complete news release about the study.

Photo: The sunset reflecting on snow in the Arctic. A Sandia National Laboratories study used previously unpublished data from GPS monitors to learn more about what’s decreasing the sun’s reflectivity in the Arctic, which is heating up faster than any other place on Earth. (Photo by Valerie Sparks)

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