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The advance-and-retreat cycle of snow cover drastically changes the whiteness and brightness of Earth. Using these two 2017 maps created using NASA satellite data, have students review the seasonal differences of snow and ice extent.

Ice, which covers 10 percent of Earth's surface, is disappearing rapidly.  While the Arctic sea ice extent is declining, air temperatures are rising. Vegetation is changing, with tundra being replaced by shrubs. Permafrost is warming and thawing over parts of the Arctic.

Hiking up to Greenland’s ice sheet, the sun remains low on the horizon even during midday.

Reflections at the top of the world

Snow cover and ice extent are monitored by satellite instruments measuring the reflectance of Earth's surface in various wavelengths every day. Snow and ice have a recognizable pattern of reflectance, so the satellite data can be processed to show where snow and ice are present. 

Snow cover and ice extent are monitored by satellite instruments measuring the reflectance of Earth's surface in various wavelengths every day. Snow and ice have a recognizable pattern of reflectance, so the satellite data can be processed to show where snow and ice are present.