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Effect of Greenland's Increase in Temperature on Ice Sheets and the Earth's Eldebo

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1720 words Published: 18th May 2020

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How does the increase in Greenland’s surface temperature cause a decrease in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheets and in turn, affect the albedo?


Climate change is just a problem with the Earth’s albedo.


The claim “Climate change is really just a problem with the Earth’s albedo” has several aspects that could be investigated. The first aspect is that the Earth’s albedo does indeed effect the Earth’s temperature but not significantly over the years. The second aspect is that Earth’s albedo has been in decline because of the atmosphere doubling in the amount of Carbon dioxide and human removal of the albedo e.g. deforestation. (NASA Earth Observatory Team, 2019) The third aspect is that the surface temperatures on Earth has evidently increased over the years. (NASA, 2019) Research has found that Greenland has experienced an increase in the melting of ice sheets. Using data of Greenland’s ice sheets, albedo and surface temperature we can develop a question: How does the decrease in Greenland’s surface temperature cause a decrease in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheets and in turn, affect the albedo?

Research Question

How does the decrease in Greenland’s surface temperature cause a decrease in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheets and in turn, affect the albedo?

If it can be established using evidence, that the albedo in Greenland does indeed effect the country’s surface temperature, then the first aspect of the claim can be supported.


Climate Change

Climate change is a change in the patterns of weather, and related changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets, occurring over time scales of decades or longer. (Australian Academy of Science, 2019) Climate Change Is caused by the “Greenhouse effect” which causes gases like Methane and Black Carbon (EPA, 2016) to trap heat in the atmosphere, allowing light energy to pass through but keep heat energy from escaping. (National Geographics, 2019) Due to the increase of solar energy hitting Earth, surfaces like glaciers and water have been unstable in its albedo resulting in more solar energy being able to penetrate the Earth.


Albedo is a unitless, non-dimensional measurement that displays how well a surface reflects solar energy by calculating the ratio between the electromagnetic radiation absorbed and the radiation that gets reflected. (NSIDC, 2019) A value of 1

Thermodynamics: Melting

Sea ice melts during the summer due to the decrease of reflectivity from the Earth’s albedo as the absorption of solar radiation increases. Sea ice reflects approx. 50 to 90% of the radiation, as a result snow on the sea ice surface takes longer to melt, but after the snow melts, water is present on the surface resulting in a decrease in albedo as water has a significantly lower albedo reflectivity. Warm surface waters can also affect the melting of ice caps, causing the edges and the bottom surface of the ice to melt. (NSIDC, 2019)


Evidence – The review will use 3 studies from NSIDC (2019), Arctic Program (2018) and Lindsey (2017) that have been undertaken to determine how much fuel is required. The results of these studies will be compiled to investigate if the decrease in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheets affect the albedo, and in turn, the country’s surface temperature.

Trends – All data display a trend of increasing temperature and decreasing of ice cap mass and surface temperature. In the June/July/August period, this is logical as that period has on average higher temperature.

Scientific arguments – Looking at the data, it is evident that as albedo increases, the temperature increases EVIDENCE. It can also be seen that no relation between ice caps and albedo/temperature have been found. EVIDENCE

Limitations of the Evidence – Data in the Lindsey report is of 2017 data resulting in data from Arctic program and NSIDC that is beyond 2017 to be incomparable to the Lindsey report.

Quality of the Evidence

NSIDC is a reliable source as the research centre has been researching data of Greenland’s ice sheets since 1981 with the support of NASA. It is suggested that a second source confirming this would be required to remove claims of bias, and to have greater confidence in the accuracy of the statement but data relating to Greenland’s ice sheets are quite minimal due to the focus being on Greenland. The Arctic Program is also reliable source being a government organisation that has been looking at surface temperature since 1900, data retrieved from Arctic Program can be used to confirm data from NSIDC. Both sources are contemporary data for 2018. The research done by Lindsey can also assist data from NSIDC on the mass of ice caps. 

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Evaluation of the claim

The research question, “How does the decrease in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheets affect the albedo, and in turn, the country’s surface temperature?” was addressed by gathering evidence. The evidence suggests that there is a general relationship between the decrease in ice sheets resulting in a decrease of surface temperature. However, the albedo has no direct relationship between surface temperature and a decrease in ice caps but there is an evident decrease in the reflectivity of albedo over the years. (1981 – 2018) The findings of this investigation, if applied to the claim, suggest that the claim is deemed to be not completely true as the ice caps do affect the albedo, but it does not seem to have a direct effect to surface temperature.

Improvements to the investigation

In order to address the limitations of the evidence identified previously, some improvements could be made. The first improvement would be to further research the greenhouse gases that directly cause the melting of ice caps and the decrease of the albedo. A second improvement could be to see why there was a trend of a decreasing albedo before the year 2000 but then stabled back to a normal speed 2000 onwards.

Extensions to the investigation

Further research that could be considered is to create solutions to solve the albedo effect to prevent  future increase of the effects of the albedo. Further, research could be conducted on the internal forcing mechanisms and human effects on climate change, to compare the overall effects between the above and the albedo effect. Finally, research into how the albedo could be getting effected by climate change itself resulting in a cycled effect. The above will allow a further investigation into the ongoing climate change and sustainability of the planet.


 It can be seen that the evidence displays that there is a relationship between the decrease of surface temperature and the decrease of ice caps, but the albedo is not the only/direct problem as the CO2 commissions are the direct problem on surface temperature. The claim “Climate change is just a problem with the Earth’s albedo,” has been refuted by the findings of this research.

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References List

  • Arctic Program, 2018. Arctic Report Card: Update for 2018. [Online]
    Available at: https://arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2018/ArtMID/7878/ArticleID/783/Surface-Air-Temperature
    [Accessed 11 June 2019].
  • Australian Academy of Science, 2019. What is climate change?. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/science-booklets-0/science-climate-change/1-what-climate-change
    [Accessed 1 June 2019].
  • Cook, J., 2016. The albedo effect and global warming. [Online]
    Available at: https://skepticalscience.com/earth-albedo-effect-intermediate.htm
    [Accessed 3 June 2019].
  • EPA, 2016. Methane and Black Carbon Impacts on the Arctic: Communicating the Science. [Online]
    Available at: https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/arctic-methane-blackcarbon_communicating-the-science.pdf
    [Accessed 30 May 2019].
  • Lindsey, R., 2017. Greenland Ice Sheet’s 2017 weigh-in suggests a small increase in ice mass. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/greenland-ice-sheets-2017-weigh-suggests-small-increase-ice-mass
    [Accessed 11 June 2019].
  • NASA Earth Observatory Team, 2019. Earth’s Albedo in Decline. [Online]
    Available at: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/5484/earths-albedo-in-decline
    [Accessed 6 June 2019].
  • NASA, 2019. Climate Change: How Do We Know?. [Online]
    Available at: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
    [Accessed 7 June 2019].
  • National Geographics, 2019. What is global warming, explained. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/global-warming-overview/
    [Accessed 30 May 2019].
  • NSIDC, 2019. Thermodynamics: Albedo. [Online]
    Available at: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/processes/albedo.html
    [Accessed 30 May 2019].
  • NSIDC, 2019. Thermodynamics: Melt. [Online]
    Available at: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/processes/thermodynamic_melt.html
    [Accessed 13 June 2019].



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