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Albedo Changes – What NSIDC Don’t Want You To Know

January 10, 2014

By Paul Homewood

We often hear it said that the loss of Arctic sea ice is more important than gains in the Antarctic.

I saw it again the other day, when some idiot made a comment to the effect that “Arctic summer = Antarctic winter” – his train of thought apparently being that, in the Arctic summer, the sun is shining and therefore less ice means less sunlight being reflected back into space. At the same time, it is winter in Antarctica, and therefore the albedo effect there is not relevant.

We should not be surprised that people make such stupid comments, as NSIDC seem equally confused. In their 3rd October press release, they talk of:

Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 13.7 percent per decade. Summer sea ice extent is important because, among other things, it reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate.

In contrast to the sharp downward trend in September Arctic sea ice, Antarctic September sea ice has been increasing at 1.1 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. “The tiny gain in Antarctica’s ice is an interesting puzzle for scientists,” said NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos. “The rapid loss of ice in the Arctic should be ringing alarm bells for everyone.”

OK, you’re probably well ahead of me! The last time I looked, mid summer (or more specifically the summer solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere was in June, not September. At the time of the Arctic minimum in September, it is the Autumn equinox, and, of course, it is also the Spring equinox down under. In other words, the albedo effect is equal at both poles.

If you really want to compare the two poles when the sun is highest in the sky, you need to look at the summer solstice.

Actual 2013 1981-2010 Mean More/Less
Arctic 21st Jun 11.202 11.490 -0.290
Antarctic 21st Dec 10.922 9.232 +1.690
Net +1.400

Sea Ice Extent Million sq km

 

So we find that, adding the two poles together, this year there has been much more ice at the summer solstice than the 30-year mean. Therefore, much more sunlight has been reflected than usual, and not less as is implied.

We also need to take account of the latitudes where the ice is gained and lost. In the Arctic,during June last year, most of the sea ice loss, relative to the climatological mean, was in the Barents Sea to the east of Svalbard. This would put it at around 80N.

N_201306_extn

Now contrast that with the Antarctic. Remember that East Antarctica extends out to the Antarctic Circle, which is 66S, and the Peninsula extends well beyond that. Therefore, the extra ice has been laid down close to 60S.

This means that the extra albedo effect is greater still in the Antarctic, relative to the loss in the Arctic, as much more sunlight falls at the lower latitudes, to be reflected back.

S_201312_extn

Finally, we can also look at ice concentration.

As with ice extent, in the Arctic, the ice has become less concentrated in the area of the Barents Sea ,i.e. at high latitudes.

Around Antarctica, though, there has been a marked increase in concentration in most places.

N_201306_anom

S_201312_anom

It is clear, therefore, that, at midsummer, the amount of sunlight being reflected back into space at the respective poles was much higher last year, than the 30-year average.

Perhaps Ted Scambos and his colleagues at the NSIDC would care to explain why they keep making such grossly misleading statements?

References

http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/index.html

http://nsidc.org/cgi-bin/bist/bist.pl?annot=1&legend=1&scale=50&tab_cols=2&tab_rows=2&config=seaice_index&submit=Refresh&mo0=06&hemis0=N&img0=extn&mo1=06&hemis1=N&img1=conc&year0=2013&year1=2012

21 Comments
  1. mkelly permalink
    January 10, 2014 8:21 pm

    Since the earth is closest to the sun on January 3 or so the acrtic has an albedo of 0. The extent of the Antarctic does increase the albedo as that is pointed at the sun when closest so reflects more sunshine. And of course the reverse is true that when the Arctic is in summer the earth is farther from the sun and reflects less w/m^2.

    Paul says: “The last time I looked, mid summer in the Northern Hemisphere was in June, not September.”

    As summer starts on June 21 or so that cannot be mid summer. Should be on about August 5th or so.
    If you wish to use 1 June as start of summer then about July 15th is mid summer.

    • January 10, 2014 10:52 pm

      Fair enough, but I was thinking in terms of the summer solstice.

      I’ve clarified now.

    • Lars P. permalink
      January 11, 2014 9:31 pm

      True Kelly, (“Since the earth is closest to the sun on January”) this is also an additional point that could be mentioned for the albedo significance & the ice increase in the South Hemisphere.
      The incoming sun radiation is about +6% in January in comparison with June.

  2. Sparks permalink
    January 10, 2014 8:37 pm

    The global warming caused by humans causes the jet stream to alter the tilt of earths axis. /sarc

    I often have this thought when I’m told that ‘CO2 doubles or increases the earths temperature’.

    Where does the extra energy come from?

    • Scott Scarborough permalink
      January 11, 2014 5:16 am

      When they say “a doubling of CO2” They mean a doubling of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. That says nothing about temperature. Models suggest that when the CO2 is doubled in the atmosphere, by this effect alone, the temperature should climb 1.2 deg. C on average at the surface of the earth. If the energy from the sunlight that falls on the earth every day could not be radiated out into space the planet would heat up and eventually become as hot as the sun! CO2 presumably interferes with this heat radiating to space thereby increasing the earth’s temperature slightly.

      • Sparks permalink
        January 13, 2014 7:56 pm

        “Models suggest that when the CO2 is doubled in the atmosphere, by this effect alone, the temperature should climb 1.2 deg. C on average at the surface of the earth.”

        The models are wrong, when CO2 concentrations double in models, ‘extra’ energy in the form of temperature is created which does not exist physically.

        There is no extra energy from CO2, if our atmosphere was 96.0% CO2, the same as Mars’s atmosphere, temperatures on Earth would be only slightly warmer than Mars due to orbital differences.

        The capacitance of CO2 isn’t that impressive on a planetary scale either CO2 is an efficient transporter of heat, it is this property that produces an effect of temperature rise when insulated, even if the Earth was 96.0% CO2 and because it’s not insulated from the cooling of space the temperature that a CO2 based planetary atmosphere will be is still influenced by natural factors such as night and day, seasonal, lunar and solar. Earth would still have ice-caped poles and a warm equator.

        “If the energy from the sunlight that falls on the earth every day could not be radiated out into space the planet would heat up and eventually become as hot as the sun!”

        There is no such natural mechanism where sunlight can reach a planet’s surface that could ever cause a planet to become as hot as its parent star. That part of your comment is actually one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read!!

        “CO2 presumably interferes with this heat radiating to space thereby increasing the earth’s temperature slightly “

        CO2 does not interfere with heat radiating out to space on planetary scale no-more than it interferes with heat coming in from space, and it is wrong to presume this, If CO2 on a planetary scale is not Insulated from space it will efficiently cool according to what its orbital parameters are i.e. length of day, axial tilt and orbital ellipse.

  3. catweazle666 permalink
    January 10, 2014 9:37 pm

    “NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos…”

    Apt. Very apt.

  4. Brian H permalink
    January 10, 2014 10:12 pm

    Paul, in your table, the net should be +1.400, as the NH is a negative and the SH a positive figure.

  5. January 11, 2014 3:11 am

    Thanks Paul. A thought provoking article.

    Arctic, 21st Jun, beginning of summer.
    Antarctic, 21st Dec, beginning of summer.
    It is also interesting to see the ice extents 2 months later: 21st Sep. for minimum Arctic and 21 Feb. for minimum Antarctic ice.
    See “Daily AMSR2 sea ice maps”, at http://www.iup.uni-bremen.de:8084/amsr2/

    These graphics are much more informative than those of the National Snow and Ice Data Center – NSIDC.

  6. Paul-82 permalink
    January 11, 2014 6:31 am

    As to greater warming of the Arctic Ocean without ice cover, compared to with, the low angle of incidence of the sun to the surface results in less absorption than the diagram suggests; the low angle results in a higher reflectance than in the diagram. This is in accord with the Lambert-Beer Law of diffuse reflectance, as one can observe from the sea or a lake surface towards sunset.
    As the planet is spherical – or almost so – more sunlight is probably reflected continuously at glancing incidence than allowed for in the model calculations, unless some one can enlighten me to the contrary.

  7. Tony permalink
    January 11, 2014 7:09 am

    Hi Paul,

    Just thought I would chime in, first time commenter here so be gentle 😀

    “OK, you’re probably well ahead of me! The last time I looked, mid summer (or more specifically the summer solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere was in June, not September. At the time of the Arctic minimum in September, it is the Autumn equinox, and, of course, it is also the Spring equinox down under. In other words, the albedo effect is equal at both poles.”

    Perhaps I am well behind as I don’t really understand your point. As I understood it, the point in the press release is that with the reduction in Arctic ice, there will be less thick ice formed in the Winter, reducing the albedo in the northern Summer and thus further reducing multi-year ice, therefore the level of minimum ice extent is probably, in part, due to the albedo issue and will be apparent in around September time.

    According to my limited understand of these things, based only on very basic met and climatology training, this does seem to stack up. To heat 1 gram of water takes about 54 calories. To convert 1 gram of 0degC ice to 0deC water will require about 80 calories. Therefore, to melt 1 gram of ice that is say at -10 degC requires 620 calories. The point of mid-summer or summer solstice is not the point where most heat has been absorbed by the ice. That point will be much later in the year depending on conditions. This can be seen during the diurnal cycle, where depending on conditions, 2pm is generally warmest point of the day despite the Sun’s intensity being maximum at noon.

    Just for fun, by my calcs it seems it would take 100 days of arctic summer sunshine to melt 1m^3 of ice at -10degC at 80 North! Seems about right?

    • January 11, 2014 1:51 pm

      Hi Tony

      1) Ice thickness is important for a number of reasons, not least as you rightly say because it influences how much ice melts the following summer.
      Remember as well though that all indications suggest the Antarctic ice is much thicker than “usual”.

      2) But purely in terms of albedo, i.e. reflected sunlight, this is strongest when the sun is at its highest in June. This is the specific point NSIDC make.
      Therefore, to compare the two poles, we need to compare NH in June, with SH in Dec, which is what I have done.

      3) If you want to compare Sep figures, the angle of the sun is the same at both poles, so albedo is the same at both. At 21st Sep last year, the total ice extent of the two was virtually in balance with the 30-yr av.
      https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/sea-ice-and-albedo-effects/

      4) You can also look back to last March 21st, and you will find that global sea ice was 590,000 sq km above normal.

      5) Whichever way you look at it, albedo effect is, if anything, increasing and not falling.

      Thanks

      Paul

      • Tony permalink
        January 11, 2014 7:25 pm

        Thanks Paul,

        “Whichever way you look at it, albedo effect is, if anything, increasing and not falling.”

        This is stretching my brain somewhat but I see what you are saying. My thinking is still a little different with the caveat that my understanding that albedo significantly reduces the absorption of energy and thus the conversion of ultraviolet energy from the Sun to reflected infrared energy from the Earth’s surface that warms the regional lower atmosphere through radiation and conduction with the help of water vapour and GHGs – we are talking about the local environment. Purely in terms of albedo, the arctic region will not be affected by ice extent in the antarctic region in a way that can be realistically attributed to antarctic conditions. So even though the global sea ice area is above normal and therefore the global albedo effect is also above normal, the effects will be primarily contained to the local region. Ice in the arctic will be primarily affected by arctic albedo and not antarctic. That’s their theory anyway.

        Saying all that, I don’t really buy the albedo argument anyway, or at least I don’t buy the significance of the effect that assigned to albedo. If it is as important as some warmists suggest, then it would mean that the ice caps would be fundamentally unstable, and anything that leads to lower ice extent and thus less albedo would automatically lead to an increase in temperatures further reducing ice, ad infinitum (and visa versa). Clearly, more significant forces are at play.

        One significant factor is that most arctic seasonal ice is sea ice, melted ice is water, and water, with a very high specific heat absorbs ultraviolet radiation and so does not reflect back much infrared as a direct response, which is effectively the same as a high albedo in terms of conductive and reflective warming of the local lower troposphere. Instead, the sea will mix and transport the absorbed energy around the global thus reducing the localized effects of loss of albedo. But I doubt anybody or any computer can reliably determine when and where that absorbed energy in the sea will re-emerge as infrared ‘warmth’.

        Another factor is that the latitudes around arctic region is generally dominated by low pressure systems formed between the Ferrel and Polar cells transferring heat through convection, which means that generally there is cloud around the area where seasonal sea ice forms and clouds are of a naturally high albedo compared to sea and land, so therefore reduce the opportunities for sea ice to increase the albedo to levels one would expect with predominantly clear skies.

        Even if I am still wide of the mark, this albedo thing strikes me very controversial.

        Cheers,
        Tony.

    • Allan M permalink
      January 12, 2014 11:42 am

      Paul:

      The definition of a ‘calorie’ is: the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree celsius. So 54 calories would raise the temperature of one gram by 54 degrees. Your calculations are incorrect.

      Latent heat of fusion is, however, correct at 80 cal./gm.

      • Tony permalink
        January 14, 2014 5:57 pm

        That was me, not Paul. You are correct, somehow it looks like by scribblings were somehow corrupted with the 540cals needed to turn water to vapor! Apologies.

  8. 3x2 permalink
    January 11, 2014 7:23 pm

    Has anyone looked at the “isolating/insulating” properties of Sea Ice?

    Simply, how does the “ice minimum” albedo change compare with the “ice maximum” insulation (ocean v atmosphere) change in terms of “energy balance”?

    While there is obviously an albedo effect in Summer, how does this compare with the isolation (by ice) of, say, Arctic waters from the raging storms one might expect, year round, in the region? That is to suggest that the rate of energy loss without (isolating) Ice might be much greater than the albedo effect.

    One only has to watch “Deadliest Catch” to see what is going on just beyond “The Ice extent” in “open waters”. The frozen waters, poleward, are protected from that nastiness (energy loss) by Ice.

  9. January 13, 2014 3:39 am

    ”dark ocean, but reflective ice”’ one of the biggest misunderstandings / misleading!

    Water ”REFLECTS” lots of sunlight = mirror effect
    2] water evaporates = cooling effect

    dark body doesn’t reflect sunlight / dark body doesn’t evaporate as cooling effect.

    Originally few pages on Google were made – to CON the people that: if Arctic loses ice, water will not reflect sunlight – which is wrong, wrong!

    1] water reflects sunlight a bit better than ice can.
    2] for 6 months there is no sunlight to reflect BUT without ice as perfect insulator -> water releases all the heat / absorbs extra coldness and is spreading it south by the currents: http://globalwarmingdenier.wordpress.com/midi-ice-age-can-be-avoided/

  10. March 24, 2015 5:33 pm

    Reblogged this on the-real-institute.com and commented:
    It is clear, therefore, that, at midsummer, the amount of sunlight being reflected back into space at the respective poles was much higher last year, than the 30-year average.

    Perhaps Ted Scambos and his colleagues at the NSIDC would care to explain why they keep making such grossly misleading statements?

  11. March 25, 2015 5:10 pm

    Max,

    For a much more complete, detailed, and sophisticated view of the Arctic/Antarctic albedo effect, and how these areas work together as “Earth’s radiators” funneling heat from the lower latitudes into space, see RA Cook’s post at WUWT.

    From near the beginning of the article:

    “As usual, Antarctic sea ice goes first for several reasons.

    First, it is almost always ignored by the CAGW press agents because the Antarctic sea ice reflects badly on several of their predictions about the effects of CO2 in particular and global warming in general. As observers of the global warming debate, you need to know what is happening all over, not just what the press agents want you to know, and what they don’t want you to know.

    We will continue to show through the next few months just how much more important the Antarctic sea ice area actually is to the world’s heat balance: The much-hyped Arctic amplification is a very real effect. But it does NOT only occur in the limited area of the Arctic (where sea ice has been receding for several decades) but around the unlimited seas and ever-increasing sea ice surrounding the Antarctica. Down south, where the sun is always higher in the sky and the solar energy reflected back into space much greater, sea ice area really does matter.”

    One thing I learned, contrary to popular dogma, is that the Arctic Ocean areas without ice cover actually radiate more heat than ice-covered areas, when all twelve months of insolation/heat loss are calculated, and the calculations are shown.

    “Today, this day of year, for every “lost” square meter of sea ice, the open Arctic ocean loses more energy from 24 hours of increased losses (increased long wave radiation from the open ocean water, from increased convection and conduction up to the sea surface, and from increased evaporation) than it gains from a few hours of increased absorption in the open Arctic Ocean. In all cases, at this latitude at all hours of the day, more energy is lost from the open Arctic Ocean water than from ice-covered Arctic waters.

    Today, this day of year, less Arctic sea ice = more heat loss from the Arctic ocean.”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/03/05/state-of-the-sea-ice-february-2015/

    I believe that you will find this article very enlightening.

    Thanks for doing what you do, Max.

    Cheers,
    renoman

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