Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Radiative forcing and albedo feedback from the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere between 1979 and 2008

Abstract

The extent of snow cover1 and sea ice2 in the Northern Hemispherehas declined since 1979, coincident with hemispheric warming and indicative of a positive feedback of surface reflectivity on climate. This albedo feedback of snow on land has been quantified from observations at seasonal timescales3,4,5,6, and century-scale feedback has been assessed using climate models7,8,9,10. However, the total impact of the cryosphere on radiative forcing and albedo feedback has yet to be determined from measurements. Here we assess the influence of the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere on Earth’s radiation budget at the top of the atmosphere—termed cryosphere radiative forcing—by synthesizing a variety of remote sensing and field measurements. We estimate mean Northern Hemisphere forcing at −4.6 to −2.2 W m−2, with a peak in May of −9.0±2.7 W m−2. We find that cyrospheric cooling declined by 0.45 W m−2 from 1979 to 2008, with nearly equal contributions from changes in land snow cover and sea ice. On the basis of these observations, we conclude that the albedo feedback from the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere falls between 0.3 and 1.1 W m−2 K−1, substantially larger than comparable estimates obtained from 18 climate models.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type

from$1.95

to$39.95

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Seasonal cycles of Northern Hemisphere CrRF and changes in forcing from 1979 to 2008.
Figure 2: Annual-mean CrRF and change in CrRF from 1979 to 2008.

References

  1. Déry, S. J. & Brown, R. D. Recent Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent trends and implications for the snow-albedo-feedback. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L22504 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Serreze, M. C., Holland, M. M. & Stroeve, J. Perspectives on the Arctic’s shrinking sea-ice cover. Science 315, 1533–1536 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Groisman, P. Y., Karl, T. R. & Knight, R. W. Observed impact of snow cover on the heat balance and the rise of continental spring temperatures. Science 263, 198–200 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Hall, A. & Qu, X. Using the current seasonal cycle to constrain snow albedo feedback in future climate change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L03502 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Qu, X. & Hall, A. Assessing snow albedo feedback in simulated climate change. J. Clim. 19, 2617–2630 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Fernandes, R. et al. Controls on Northern Hemisphere snow albedo feedback quantified using satellite earth observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L21702 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Colman, R. A comparison of climate feedbacks in general circulation models. Clim. Dyn. 20, 865–873 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Winton, M. Surface albedo feedback estimates for the AR4 climate models. J. Clim. 19, 359–365 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Shell, K. M., Kiehl, J. T. & Shields, C. A. Using the radiative kernel technique to calculate climate feedbacks in NCAR’s community atmospheric model. J. Clim. 21, 2269–2282 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Soden, B. J. et al. Quantifying climate feedbacks using radiative kernels. J. Clim. 21, 3504–3520 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Trenberth, K. E. & Fasullo, J. T. Global warming due to increasing absorbed solar radiation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L07706 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Qu, X. & Hall, A. Surface contribution to planetary albedo variability in cryosphere regions. J. Clim. 18, 5239–5252 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Wielicki, B. A. et al. Changes in Earth’s albedo measured by satellite. Science 308, 825 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Robinson, D. A. & Frei, A. Seasonal variability of Northern Hemisphere snow extent using visible satellite data. Professional Geogr. 51, 307–314 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cavalieri, D., Parkinson, C., Gloersen, P. & Zwally, H. J. Sea ice concentrations from Nimbus-7 SMMR and DMSP SSM/I passive microwave data, [1979–2008] (1996, updated 2008). Boulder, CO, USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

  16. Wang, X. & Key, J. R. Arctic surface, cloud, and radiation properties based on the AVHRR polar pathfinder dataset. Part I: Spatial and temporal characteristics. J. Clim. 18, 2558–2574 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fowler, C., Emery, W. J. & Maslanik, J. Satellite-derived evolution of Arctic sea ice age: October 1978 to March 2003. IEEE Geosci. Remote Sens. Lett. 1, 71–74 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Maslanik, J. A. et al. A younger, thinner Arctic ice cover: Increased potential for rapid, extensive sea-ice loss. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L24501 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Perovich, D. K., Grenfell, T. C., Light, B. & Hobbs, P. V. Seasonal evolution of the albedo of multiyear Arctic sea ice. J. Geophys. Res. 107, 8044 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Tschudi, M. A., Fowler, C., Maslanik, J. A. & Stroeve, J. Tracking the movement and changing surface characteristics of Arctic sea ice. IEEE J. Sel. Top. Earth Obs. Remote Sens. 3, 536–540 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Barlage, M., Zeng, X., Wei, H. & Mitchell, K. E. A global 0.05° maximum albedo dataset of snow-covered land based on MODIS observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L17405 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Rossow, W. & Schiffer, R. Advances in understanding clouds from ISCCP. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 80, 2261–2288 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Qu, X. & Hall, A. What controls the strength of snow-albedo feedback? J. Clim. 20, 3971–3981 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Eastman, R. & Warren, S. Interannual variations of Arctic cloud types in relation to sea ice. J. Clim. 23, 4216–4232 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kay, J. E. & Gettelman, A. Cloud influence on and response to seasonal arctic sea ice loss. J. Geophys. Res. 114, D18204 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Perovich, D. K., Nghiem, S. V., Markus, T. & Schweiger, A. Seasonal evolution and interannual variability of the local solar energy absorbed by the arctic sea ice–ocean system. J. Geophys. Res. 112, C03005 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Markus, T., Stroeve, J. C. & Miller, J. Recent changes in arctic sea ice melt onset, freezeup, and melt season length. J. Geophys. Res. 114, C12024 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Mote, T. L. Greenland surface melt trends 1973–2007: Evidence of a large increase in 2007. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L22507 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hansen, J., Ruedy, R., Sato, M. & Lo, K. Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys. 48, RG4004 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Brohan, P., Kennedy, J. J., Harris, I., Tett, S. F. B. & Jones, P. D. Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D12106 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Stroeve, J., Holland, M. M., Meier, W., Scambos, T. & Serreze, M. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L09501 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Zender, C. S. et al. Atmospheric absorption during the atmospheric radiation measurement (ARM) enhanced shortwave experiment (ARESE). J. Geophys. Res. 102, 29901–29915 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank C. Fowler and J. Maslanik for providing multi-year sea-ice data, T. Estilow and M. J. Brodzik for providing snow and sea-ice data and advice, and S. Warren for reviewing the manuscript. MODIS data are distributed by the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center, located at the US Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (lpdaac.usgs.gov). The ISCCP D2 data were obtained from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project web site (http://isccp.giss.nasa.gov) maintained by the ISCCP research group at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. We acknowledge the modelling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model data set. Research was supported by NSF ATM-0852775 (M.G.F.) and ATM-0904092 (K.M.S.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.G.F. wrote the manuscript and combined all data sets to quantify CrRF. K.M.S. provided radiative kernel data, quantified CMIP3 model feedbacks and helped write the manuscript. M.B. provided land snow-covered albedo data. D.K.P. and M.A.T. provided, respectively, field-measured and remote sensing sea-ice albedo data.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. G. Flanner.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2486 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Flanner, M., Shell, K., Barlage, M. et al. Radiative forcing and albedo feedback from the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere between 1979 and 2008. Nature Geosci 4, 151–155 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1062

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1062

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing