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Thinking about Earth’s Albedo as half of America sits frozen in a polar vortex

I don’t know if you guys knew but apparently it’s been really cold or something lately? As we continue undergoing the polar vortex I can’t help but think about Albedo. Most of my friends would look at me like I was a total nut if I casually brought this up in conversation (like, WTF is Albedo?), but the unfamiliar-sounding word that was first introduced to me in a Weather and Climate course back in my first year of college (my professor was an absolute nut; let’s just say that he once compared the clouds to “burning incense smoke sitting in your dorm room”) is actually just a fancy way of saying how a surface reflects off the sun.

I know, it sounds almost like TOO simple of a concept. However the simplicity of the sun reflecting its rays off Earth back into the atmosphere means a lot for how the planet cools itself naturally. So when the snowplows have to inevitably disrupt this cycle by clearing the streets and we’re out shoveling our driveways, this lessens the amount of sun that is reflected back. Meaning: in spots without snow more heat is absorbed.

It’s scary to think about, too, because retrospectively speaking as the ice sheets continue to melt from global warming (Greenland lost a chunk the size of France in 2010; see info graphic below), we keep losing Albedo and all of this just means bad. At least next time you’re home for the holidays and your parents ask you to go out and shovel the driveway, now you can throw out the good ol’ Albedo excuse. “It’s better for the planet, Ma!”



(infographic via paul-murray.org; main photo via colorado.edu)


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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.