Mini Lesson

Seasonal Arctic Albedo

Mini Lesson

What is Albedo?

Ice reflects more sunlight than many other types of surfaces. This is related to the color of the surface. Have you ever noticed that you get hotter outside in the summer when you wear black and you feel cooler when you wear white? This is due to differences in how much sunlight is absorbed and reflected by a black shirt and white shirt. Albedo indicates what percentage of the incoming solar radiation (sunlight) is reflected by a surface. The less albedo a surface has, the more energy contained in solar radiation (sunlight) is getting absorbed.

Ice has a high albedo, so it reflects incoming solar radiation. The ocean has a low albedo, so it absorbs much more incoming solar radiation. More information on albedo is available on the Changing Albedo Values phenomenon page.

Watch the animation, and think about how the changes in Arctic albedo might be impacted by the seasons. 

Video: The High Variability of Global Albedo; Credit: NOAA Visualization

  1. In what season/s do you expect a change in albedo in the Arctic to have the greatest impact in the amount of sunlight absorbed and reflected at the surface?  

Think-Pair-Share:

  1. How does the amount of solar energy received by the Arctic change with the seasons? 
  2. Why does albedo change seasonally in the Arctic? 
  3. What is albedo?  
  4. How does the albedo of ice compare to the albedo of the ocean? 

Teacher Note

Teachers who are interested in receiving the answer key, please contact MND from your school email address at mynasadata@lists.nasa.gov.

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