Loss of Arctic Sea Ice Has Greater Warming Impact Than Expected

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The steady disappearance of Arctic sea ice, which is causing the exposed and darker surface of the Arctic Ocean to absorb more sunlight, is having a more profound impact on global warming than previously estimated, according to a new study.

The decline of albedo, or reflectivity, from the Arctic Ocean equals roughly 25 percent of the warming caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, according to scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The impact of this “albedo feedback,” in which the highly reflective white surface of sea ice is replaced by heat-absorbing open ocean, is considerably stronger than climate models had predicted, according to the UCSD research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers had thought increasing Arctic cloud cover might slow the albedo feedback, but this study indicates that is not happening. In addition to sea ice retreat, the researchers also note that black carbon soot could be causing Arctic ice to darken and absorb more sunlight.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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