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The reflection of solar radiation by Arctic sea ice is critical to maintaining an overall stable global temperature. This phenomenon, known as “albedo,” has decreased over the past 30 years, according to a study by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The study finds that there is a clear trend towards disappearing ice in the northern region of the Arctic Ocean, causing a major decline in solar reflectivity.
The Finnish Meteorological Institute’s August 4 paper published in the journal, Nature Climate Change contains data from 1982-2009 taken for the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites Satellite Application Facility on Climate Monitoring (EUMETSAT CM SAF) project. Open water and sea ice all decrease in the summer months between May and August, mainly due to the shrinking of the ice cap. Confining their study to an area covered by ice, they also note that an equivalent loss in albedo can be seen in June-August. Overall, albedo has seen a three percent decrease in each decade.
The most salient factor for decrease in reflectivity is the loss of ice in the polar ice cap. Longer melt periods and higher temperature are also contributors. In a dangerous loop, less albedo means less ice, and each in turn exacerbates the problem further.