Not Just Sea Ice, but Snow Cover Affected by Warming

February 23, 2016


Above, one view of today’s temp anomaly as reflected in the University of Maine’s Climate ReAnalyzer.

One of the most powerful “feedback” effects in the climate system is albedo, the whiteness of the planet’s surface.

Where there is fresh ice or snow, the whiteness has a very high reflectivity, and bounces almost all – 80 or 90 percent – of the sun’s energy back to space.  When we lose that white surface, absorption of the sun’s heat climbs rapidly, and we see  the “vicious cycle” – the positive feedback that’s not so positive for us – as more dark surface = more heat = more dark surface = more heat…

For some parts of the planet, warming can actually mean more snow in the winter, as a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, which will precipitate out whenever conditions are right.

UPDATE: Have added video interview from Rutger’s Jennifer Francis to help clarify. I’m getting twitter-tacked by deniers suffering from cognitive dissonance.

Rutgers University Snow Lab has some interesting graphs on this topic.  Below, take a look at Fall snow cover in the northern hemisphere.rutgers_fallsnowA first response is likely to be, “where’s the warming”?  Actually, due in part to the increase in open water in the arctic, some areas like Siberia are getting more snow in the fall, as they see a kind of “lake effect” down wind of the newly uncovered water, which sends moisture laden air that way.

Winter shows a similar paradox, with a gradual rise in the snow cover extent.


Where the global change really stands out is in spring snow cover, which is showing the most dramatic change.


As temps warm, spring comes earlier to northern areas, and snow recedes, leaving dark soil and vegetation open to an ever increasing positive feedback.

This year I’ve commented on the remarkable decline in arctic sea ice, right at the time when it should still be climbing to an early march peak.


But the snow cover is also showing the same early decline, as NOAA shows.


We are living in interesting times.


17 Responses to “Not Just Sea Ice, but Snow Cover Affected by Warming”

  1. Gerald Jones Says:

    “affected”, not “effected”.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Give Gerald a perfumed sleeve hanky to sniff. He reminds me of those who write letters-to-the-editor about other such inanities as grammar or unflattering photos, which the papers publish instead of focusing on the REAL news (like the important substance and great graphics in this piece).

      • dumboldguy, would you recommend simply ignoring spelling errors? If someone were to write “they’re” (the contraction of “they are”) where “their” (the possessive) belongs, would you simply suggest ignoring such a mistake? Those words actually sound the same. “Affect” and “effect” do not.

        Peter Sinclair is obviously quite proud of how he uses language. It shows in the high quality of his writing and reasoning. This makes it easier to focus on the content which would seem especially important given his wide audience. Sinclair is a powerful writer, and much of the power of his writing is due to his attention to detail, including proper English.

        Don’t fault Gerald for pointing out a prominently positioned, basic mistake that detracts from the essay. Such errors belong elsewhere, serving as a sign of the quality of thought behind the use of language and a warning to those who read it.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          TC is being greedy today, and has grabbed yet another perfumed sleeve hanky to sniff as he sits on his high horse and insults us with his condescension. He now has one hanky for each hand and therefore one for each nostril—hope he doesn’t fall off the high horse because he has had to let go of the reins in order to properly “sniff” at us.

          The substance and structure of TC’s comments on this thread would lead one to believe that he is a language arts major or some sort of non-scientist like an economist, historian, or other “social” scientist. My training is in science, but I DID have the good fortune to take as a freshman the “English Grammar and Composition for Non-English Majors” course with Dr. Blackburn, a tiny British lady who rode her (English) bicycle to the campus each day with her “brolly” and briefcase in the basket.

          Even though we were non-majors, we had all learned our “they’re-there-their” in elementary school, and if any of us had made that mistake on a paper, the good doctor would have read it out loud and ridiculed the miscreant, if not banned them from the room for the day, which was something she often did for those who committed egregious sins against the language. She had a 40+% failure rate in her “English for Dummies” classes, and I considered myself lucky to get a “C”. But I DO thank you for the lesson—so kind of you (I am sniffing a small sleeve hanky there myself).

          So to answer “would you recommend simply ignoring spelling errors?”, in the spirit of RC’s pedantry, I would first say that “they’re-there-their” is perhaps not a spelling error but a grammar error. In any case, I will again say that substance is what matters. I was rushing out the door to have a tooth pulled when I wrote “Don’t those who see such total disaster in a mistake of one letter also possess the graph interpretation skills and intuition needed to see that *rrsaon* for alarm?” That’s spelling error (actually a typo due to dumbold finger-brain connections) that should simply be ignored because it’s clear from the context that the word should have been “reason”, just as the “a-e” error is seen by anyone who is not on their pedantic high horse as simply the result of “6 AM grogginess” and not worth commenting on.

          I myself have no difficulty “focusing on Peter’s content”, and I think I can speak for the vast majority of Crockers when I say you pick at nits here and waste our time. Peter’s English is more than “proper” enough that it doesn’t need correction from pedants, and IMO his real strength comes from his skill in selection of source material, compiling and editing videos, his emphasis on providing great graphic illustrations, and his slightly snarky sense of humor. There are others in the CC blogosphere whose English may be a bit more elegant and polished, but they don’t get the message across anywhere near as well.

          I would also respond to “Such errors belong elsewhere, serving as a sign of the quality of thought behind the use of language and a warning to those who read it”, but it seems to be written in OmnoSpeak, and I’ve never been good at translating that.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Case in point. On my third reference to Timothy Chase in this comment, I typed RC instead of TC (dumboldfingers again, since R and T are side-by side keys). In the context of the sentence in which that error appeared, did anyone spend more than an instant wondering who I was referring to?

    • Thank you… The use of the word “effected” where “affected” would properly be used should be corrected, especially as this error is in the title itself rather than buried in the middle of the essay.

      Oftentimes readers will not notice errors consciously but more at the periphery of their awareness. Such errors will then weaken the psychological impact of a piece even though few readers may be able to say why.

      This is an easy enough mistake to make, particularly given the proper use of “effect” in other parts of the essay. It is a mistake that I might make. But its ease is not a reason for leaving it as is.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        At this rate, we’re going to run out of perfumed sleeve hankies very soon, since TC has just snagged one with this comment. I read the headline on this post, chuckled a bit, said to myself exactly what Peter later said—“too groggy to be posting at 6 am”, and moved on to the SUBSTANCE of this piece, which is very informative and, I will repeat, is quite alarming.

        Don’t those who see such total disaster in a mistake of one letter also possess the graph interpretation skills and intuition needed to see that rrsaon for alarm? And “Such errors will then weaken the psychological impact of a piece…”? Lord love a duck but that’s insulting to the intelligence of Crockers.

        Anyone who wants to point out a typo to Peter can do so via private email and not sniff their sleeve hanky while posting in the thread—see “contact me” at the top of the page (and do a “donate” while you’re up there). Nine comments now, and only two discuss the SUBSTANCE contained in this post in the slightest. Are we again whistling past the graveyard and trying to deny what these graphs show us?

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Will September 2016 be the first month in which we see an ice-free Arctic? My winter blahs are not helped much by the very bad news shown in this arctic ice graph. A commenter on another Crock thread said “not to worry, it will spike up again over the next few weeks and look more like normal”. I wonder if he was looking at the plot from the Climate ReAnalyzer when he said that, because it tells me a far different story. The ever-earlier decline in snow cover makes it a double whammy. Low albedo on land in the northern hemisphere in the spring-summer months means more heat absorbed and more positive feedback, and that is not balanced by greater snow cover in the fall-winter.

    PS It’s been over a month now, and we in northern VA still have some “snow cover” on our lawns where the front end loaders piled it up to clear the roads, and it has persisted in spite of some rather warm days and a fair amount of rain. I have a foot of snow in places, while the crocuses are coming up a few feet away.

  3. greenman3610 Says:

    thanks to all who caught the typo.
    too groggy to be posting at 6 am

  4. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    Having watched the sea ice graphs for the last few years, what is happening now is quite remarkable, but I’d be reluctant to call a maximum just yet.

    We should know for sure in about a month – the future comes quickly.
    Too quickly 😦

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I’ve been watching the sea ice graphs for years also—they are my personal “canary in the coal mine”, and you’re right in saying that the maximum is typically not here “just yet” in late February.

      However, the ice peaked right around this date last year, and conditions this year don’t seem conducive for any kind of serious uptick in the time remaining before major melting takes hold—-my gut tells me that the “remarkableness” of this year’s data is likely to lead us into uncharted territory.

  5. The annual minimums are dramatic, but what really matters is how well-exposed the dark ocean is when the Arctic sun is high. This is what will bring us to the tipping point with its more rapidly rising temperatures, faster Greenland melt and consequent changes in ocean circulation. Record low winter maximums, early spring retreat and dark summer arctic ocean deserve more attention.

  6. Tom Radecki Says:

    Very good article. Spring snow cover is more important since the days are much longer than in the fall and winter. This is especially true the farther north you go. Looking at the graphs, the total increase in fall and winter snow cover since 1967 is about 1.8 million sq. mi., vs. a decrease in spring snow cover of 3.0 million. That’s a lot more solar energy absorption.

  7. […] surface darker with ash and soot from forest fires (Google the Dark Snow project of Jason Box). Not Just Sea Ice, but Snow Cover Affected by Warming | Climate Denial Crock of the Week Sign in or Register Now to […]

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