From: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent, Reuters
Published January 17, 2011 06:48 AM

The Earth's shrinking snow and ice cover may increase the rate of Global warming

Shrinking ice and snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is reflecting ever less sunshine back into space in a previously underestimated mechanism that could add to global warming, a study showed.

Satellite data indicated that Arctic sea ice, glaciers, winter snow and Greenland's ice were bouncing less energy back to space from 1979 to 2008. The dwindling white sunshade exposes ground or water, both of which are darker and absorb more heat.

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The study estimated that ice and snow in the Northern Hemisphere were now reflecting on average 3.3 watts per square meter of solar energy back to the upper atmosphere, a reduction of 0.45 watt per square meter since the late 1970s.

"The cooling effect is reduced and this is increasing the amount of solar energy that the planet absorbs," Mark Flanner, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, told Reuters.

"This reduction in reflected solar energy through warming is greater than simulated by the current crop of climate models," he said of the findings by a team of U.S.-based researchers and published in the journal Nature Geoscience Sunday.

"The conclusion is that the cryosphere (areas of ice and snow) is both responding more sensitively to, and also driving, stronger climate change than thought," he said.

As ever more ground and water is exposed to sunlight, the absorbed heat in turn speeds the melting of snow and ice nearby.

Arctic sea ice, for instance, has shrunk in recent decades in a trend that the United Nations panel of climate scientists blames mainly on greenhouse gases from mankind's burning of fossil fuels in factories, power plants and cars.

Photo shows snow-covered landscape in aerial photo near the town of Uummannaq in western Greenland March 17, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Svebor Kranjc

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70F2F020110116

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