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Study reveals new clues about rapid Arctic warming

The Arctic, often referred to as Earth’s icy crown, is currently at the epicenter of a climate transformation unparalleled in modern history. A recent study from Sandia National Laboratories has shed new light on this rapidly evolving crisis. 

Intriguing phenomenon 

The research was focused on the significant reduction in sunlight reflectivity, or albedo, in the Arctic. The results offer a deeper understanding of the factors that are accelerating Arctic warming, which is occurring at a rate four times faster than the global average.

Erika Roesler, an atmospheric and climate scientist at Sandia, elaborated on the pressing issue. “The uneven warming in the Arctic is both a scientific curiosity and a pressing concern, leading us to question why this landscape has been changing so dramatically.”

Innovative research

The study diverges from traditional research methods. Instead of fieldwork in the frigid Arctic, the Sandia team analyzed data from GPS satellite radiometers. 

This innovative approach allowed them to observe the sunlight reflection patterns over the Arctic with unprecedented accuracy and detail.

Sea-ice albedo feedbacks

The researchers noted that previous studies have suggested that sea-ice albedo feedbacks are likely driving Arctic amplification. These albedo feedbacks can be broken down into two main areas.

First, the reduction in sea ice leads to more open, dark ocean surfaces that absorb more sunlight, thereby increasing temperatures. Second, there is the altered reflectivity of the remaining sea ice, which is affected by factors like meltwater ponding.

Amy Kaczmarowski, an engineer at Sandia, conducted an analysis of the data spanning from 2014 to 2019.

“There have been numerous local measurements and theoretical discussions regarding the effects of water puddling on ice albedo,” said Kaczmarowski. 

Critical new insights 

“This study represents one of the first comprehensive examinations of year-to-year effects in the Arctic region. Sandia’s data analysis revealed a 20% to 35% decrease in total reflectivity over the Arctic summer.”

“According to microwave sea-ice extent measurements collected during the same period, one-third of this loss of reflectivity is attributed to fully melted ice.”

The other two-thirds of the loss in reflectivity is likely caused by the weathering of the remaining sea ice. according to the study. “The key discovery here is just how much the weathered ice is reducing reflectivity,” said Kaczmarowski.

Ongoing research

Senior scientist Phil Dreike collaborated with the U.S. Space Force to obtain permission for Sandia to analyze previously unpublished data from the radiometers on GPS satellites.

“New observational climate datasets are unique,” said Roesler. “To qualify as a climate dataset, observations must span a multitude of years. Small-scale science projects are typically not that long in duration, making this dataset particularly valuable.”

Kaczmarowski emphasized the ongoing nature of this research and the team’s commitment to collaborating with other climate scientists. “We will continue to use this data to investigate various regions of the Earth for climate applications.”

The research is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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