What Is Albedo Modification and How Can It Mitigate the Climate Crisis?

As the world grapples with the escalating climate crisis — marked by rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and extreme weather events — the need for innovative and effective climate change mitigation strategies has never been more urgent. Among these strategies, surface albedo modification stands out as a significant and potentially transformative approach. 

This method offers a unique angle in the battle against global warming by way of increasing the albedo effect on our planet. Here’s what you need to know about challenges the planet’s albedo is facing and how surface modification can help.

Exploring Surface Albedo Modification: A Strategy Against Climate Change

What Is Albedo? What Is the Albedo Effect?

Albedo is a measure of how much light or radiation is reflected by a surface, and the albedo effect refers to the process by which this reduces the temperature of that surface. Different surfaces have varying albedo; the lighter the surface, the greater its ability to reflect rather than absorb light. (If you’ve ever driven or ridden in a black vehicle during the summer, you know all too well that dark surfaces absorb the most heat). 

In the context of Earth, this term refers to the proportion of sunlight reflected by the planet’s total surface and atmosphere, or planetary albedo. Planetary albedo affects both local and global temperatures.

What Is Our Current Planetary Albedo?

The Earth’s albedo is a critical factor in the global climate. It is the average value of all geographic albedos, and it represents the fraction of solar energy our planet reflects back into space. This average is influenced by geographical and temporal factors, such as the extent of ice and snow cover, cloudiness, and the type of land cover. As of 2023, the Earth’s average albedo was around 0.3, meaning just 30% of incoming solar radiation is reflected back into space — and if action is not taken, that number will soon be lower. 

What Is Surface Albedo Modification?

Surface albedo modification is a climate intervention strategy that specifically focuses on solar radiation management (SRM), or solar geoengineering. It works to alter the Earth’s surface properties to increase its reflectivity. This can be achieved through various means, such as painting roofs and pavements in light colors, planting crops with higher reflectivity, or manufacturing and deploying reflective material in strategic locations, like the Arctic. 

How Can Surface Albedo Modification Work as a Climate Intervention Strategy?

Surface albedo modification presents a method for mitigating the “warming” part of global warming, which is the main driver behind the current climate crisis. By increasing the Earth’s reflectivity, this approach to climate intervention could help to lower global temperatures. It’s an attractive idea because it can be implemented locally in a wide range of geographical regions and have immediate effects. 

However, it’s important to note that albedo modification is not intended to be a standalone solution to the climate crisis, but rather a strategy that can be paired with others, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Why Albedo Modification May Be Most Beneficial in the Arctic

Promoting surface modification in the Arctic is particularly strategic because snow and ice, being white in color, naturally have a higher albedo than darker surfaces (like the ocean). The Arctic region is responsible for a considerable portion of the Earth’s overall albedo, and it’s also the region that is most vulnerable to climate change — even more than the Antarctic. 

Increasing the albedo in the Arctic could help restore ice cover, reducing the “albedo feedback” in which melting ice uncovers darker surfaces that absorb more solar radiation, thus speeding up and worsening the warming process. This intervention could potentially slow down the warming process in a region crucial for global climate stability. 

However, even in the Arctic, albedo modification is not without challenges. The scale required for significant impact, potential unintended consequences, and the variability of effects in different regions are crucial considerations.

How You Can Support Albedo Modification and Other Climate Intervention Strategies

You can help protect Arctic sea ice and the health of our climate by educating yourself and others on climate intervention strategies, reducing your own reliance on fossil fuels, and voting for legislation and politicians that work to address the climate crisis. You can also support nonprofit organizations that work directly in climate intervention.

Protect Arctic Sea Ice and Our Climate With Arctic Ice Project

Arctic Ice Project’s efforts are crucial to the protection of Arctic sea ice. Our team is developing reflective materials and strategies to increase the albedo of this precious ice, mimicking natural processes to reflect solar energy out of our atmosphere and restore the Arctic.

You can do your part in this critical fight by donating to AIP. With your donation of cash, stocks, bonds, or your opening of a DAF, you can help ensure that Arctic sea life and humanity on our planet not only see a tomorrow, but see a brighter one. No donation is too small! 

If you are not able to make a financial contribution, you can still share the message and inspire others to act through social media and by staying informed on climate projects. Contact us today for other ways to help!

Simulating the Effects of AIP’s Deployment in Beaufort Gyre Through Climate Modeling

Simulating the Effects of AIP’s Deployment in Beaufort Gyre Through Climate Modeling

Anthony Strawa, PhD

The overall objective of this project is to simulate reflective material deployment in the Beaufort Gyre and evaluate its regional and global climate impacts. The Beaufort Gyre (BG) is an area in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska and Canada that is known as a sea ice nursery, allowing young ice to mature into multi-year ice.

The project will be executed by Climformatics with Arctic Ice Project oversight and collaboration with Dr. Smedsrud of U. Bergen and the Bjerkens Centre for Climate Research in Norway.

The AIP treatment is modeled by perturbing  the sea ice albedo in the targeted treatment area (Fig.1) using the latest version of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) fully coupled climate model named CESM 2.0. CESM 2.0 is one of several global climate models (GCM) used by the scientific community to produce estimates that support the United Nations’ IPCC studies. This model was chosen because it represents the Arctic climate better than other GCMs. The model configuration includes atmospheric, land, sea ice and ocean components. This study models the period 2000-2050 with two 10-member ensembles of climate model simulations: reference and BG perturbation cases. These climate simulations are transient with evolving Greenhouse Gas (GHG) forcing from observed (historical) data sets from 2000 to 2015 and future climate scenario Shared Socioeconomic Pathways SSP2-4.5 from 2015-2050.

Our hypothesis is that brightening the sea ice in the BG core will thicken the sea ice and consequently spread basin wide by the BG circulation. We will quantify the amount of sea ice volume increase per year, assess the delay in reaching the state of a summer ice free Arctic, evaluate the efficacy of the albedo enhancement in the BG region and compare it to earlier simulations of Arctic-wide and Fram Strait targeted applications.

NCAR diagnostics packages for the atmospheric and sea ice model components will be used to analyze each ensemble member individually (20 diagnostics runs), as well as, for the differences of the two main cases (BG – CONTROL) (10 diagnostics runs). The diagnostics analysis includes calculation and visualization of monthly, seasonal and annual climatologies of many variables: air temperature, humidity, winds, pressure, clouds, precipitation, and etc. at different vertical atmospheric levels, as well as, water cycle and radiation budget components at the surface and at the top of the atmosphere. An analysis using analytic tools written specifically for this project will be performed focused on the changes in the Arctic radiation budget, atmospheric dynamics and ice cover due to the BG albedo enhancement. The efficacy of the albedo enhancement technology will be estimated by comparing its impacts (ice volume/ice area/ice thickness changes) per square kilometer of treated area compared to the results from our previous simulations: Arctic-wide, and Fram Strait.

The project will result in at least one scientific paper submitted for peer-reviewed publication within 12 months from project start. 

Polar map showing the Beaufort Gyre treatment area. The arrows show typical ocean currents. Note the circular vortex motion in the Gyre.

Polar map showing the Beaufort Gyre treatment area. The arrows show typical ocean currents. Note the circular vortex motion in the Gyre.

Research at SINTEF, Status Report July 6, 2022

Research at SINTEF, Status Report July 6, 2022

Gary Wolff, PhD Research at SINTEF

SINTEF researcher

SINTEF Ocean Lab, located in Trondheim Norway, and part of one of the largest research organizations in Europe, is evaluating what will likely happen to Hollow Glass Microspheres (HGMs) if deployed in the Arctic Ocean, and what impact they might have on the Arctic ecosystem. 

The ‘fate and transport’ tests on three types of HGMs are complete. Algae and bacteria did not grow well on the surface of the HGMs, so they will probably stay reflective for years in the Ocean. Two types of HGMs mostly continued to float when tumbled repeatedly in seawater or repeatedly frozen and then thawed. Yet even these two types of HGMs broke at a modest rate. A modest amount of breakage is good since it means that the cooling benefit of spreading HGMs will last many years, but is also a naturally reversible effect. Greenhouse gas emissions have to decline and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere need to be removed as soon as possible. HGM deployment is intended to ‘buy time’ for that to occur; but we do not want to permanently affect the Arctic Ocean. 

Next, three species essential to the Arctic Ocean ecosystem will be exposed to the best performing type of HGM from the fate and transport studies. Billions of Calanus, a microscopic creature, selectively filter feed small bits of algae and other living things near the ocean surface. They are in turn an essential food source for small fish. Will Calanus eat whole or broken HGMs? And if they do, will HGMs kill them or slow their rate of growth? Or pass through without harm? Blue mussels live near shore and also filter feed, but they eat whatever is in the water they filter. Will whole and broken HGMs pass through blue mussels harmlessly?  Polychaetes (worms) live in the mud at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. Because broken HGMs will fall to the bottom, SINTEF will see if there is any harm to Polychaetes that eat broken HGMs, such as lower growth or reproductive rates. 

The fate and transport, and biological tests, should be ready to submit to one or more peer-reviewed journals by the end of 2022. These results, if positive, will support permit applications for field testing. 

But the results will be valuable even if they are not entirely positive. All HGMs are not the same. So although the best types of HGMs now available are being tested, it may be necessary to ask manufacturers to produce slightly different types of HGMs that are safer. For example, if broken HGMs cause problems but whole ones do not, manufacturers might be able to make an HGM that breaks like safety glass into pieces without sharp edges.  We could then test the re-engineered HGM for safety.