Non-Linear* Global Warming and Sea Ice Albedo Decline

Loss of Arctic reflectivity in sea ice + meltwater ponds drives a feedback loop that accelerates warming at an alarming rate

As Arctic sea ice declines, it begins to crumble, which causes a decrease in reflectivity. Meltwater ponds now appear more frequently, causing a similar effect.

A number of feedback loops mechanisms are at work in the Arctic, and each of them contributes to the acceleration of regional and global warming.

The “surface albedo” effect is a well understood phenomenon that is known to reinforce warming over reflective surfaces such as ice sheets and sea ice. The rapid increase in lower level (near surface) air temperature is causing sea ice and snow cover to melt more rapidly than in the past. The reduction in ice exposes less reflective surfaces such as dark open seawater, bare ground, and vegetation. These surfaces absorb more solar radiation, which warms the land and ocean water and moves heat energy the atmosphere. The loop comes full circle as the near surface temperature further increase and the process reinforces itself.

Examples of feedback processes that amplify an initial near-surface air temperature rise caused by global warming (diagram courtesy of 

The combination of surface albedo reduction and other feedback loops work together to generate a degree of warming that some scientists are now beginning to describe as “abrupt climate change.” This is another way of saying that the rate of climate change is faster than earlier models predicted, and may be virtually unprecedented in terms of the geological records.

Some of these forces are difficult for laymen to understand, but others are more accessible (and therefore alarming). Such changes include increases in atmospheric water vapor as cloud, which radiates heat down and further warm the atmosphere. Another example is airborne black soot including dust and dirt particles that darken glaciers and snow pack, again increasing the solar heat absorption.

In the event of an ice fee ocean, phytoplankton will increase, with a corresponding uptick in solar radiation going into the water and land. As algae and phytoplankton proliferate, interaction with the upper atmosphere, changing the chemical makeup of the atmosphere.

The chemical makeup of the oceans are already changing as the waters absorb more CO2.

Non-linear means it is changing rapidly in response to extreme input (such as human production of CO2 and methane) that are outside the normal influence of natural processes. It is also called “abrupt climate change.”


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