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Earth's Albedo and Global Warming

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, USGS (US Geological Survey), NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center)

This interactive visualization adapted from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey illustrates the concept of albedo, which is the measure of how much solar radiation is reflected from Earth's surface.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This material could be used as homework or as discussion fodder.

About the Science

  • This interactive activity allows students to learn about how materials, such as snow, ice, and water, differ in their ability to reflect and absorb the sun's energy and how melting polar ice creates a positive feedback loop that accelerates global warming.
  • Students investigate how the presence of pollution, such as soot, lowers the albedo of ice and further increases melting. In addition, they observe the decline in Arctic sea ice cover from 1979–2007 and the effect of melting ice on sea levels.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Gives a good clear overview of albedo, and importantly, the ice albedo feedback. Nicely steps from basic concept of albedo, to role of albedo in the climate system.

About the Pedagogy

  • This interactive visualization is an effective tool that could be used in a discussion or as homework.
  • While not a very dynamic presentation, the visualization is effective.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The visualization is downloadable (size = 43 MB).
  • Background essay and discussion questions are provided.

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