On Nature: Arctic Warming

On Nature: David Voigts

It is well known that the Arctic has warmed much faster than the rest of the world, but the reasons for this accelerated warming are less clear. Part of it is caused by changes in the Arctic’s albedo or reflectivity. Snow and ice reflect much of the sun’s light.

However, as the Arctic has warmed, more snow and ice have melted. The resulting water or land surface is darker, causing less sunlight to be reflected, and this accelerates the warming of the surface.

Ongoing research is giving us some understanding of the warming not explained by changes in albedo. A study conducted by NASA found that clouds have increased in the fall, probably from changing meteorological conditions.

Another study published in “Nature Climate Change” found that the Arctic is warming faster in winter when it is always dark and changes in the surface reflectivity cannot be a factor. These studies suggest that increased fall clouds along with winter clouds act as a blanket and reflect more of the Earth’s heat back down to the surface, accelerating the warming of the Arctic.

The situation is complex, but it is clear that the root cause is the warming of the planet.

David Voigts is a retired ecologist and the current Conservation Chair for the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society. He is a Tama County native, graduating from Dinsdale High School, and lives in rural Jesup on his wife’s family farm.