Albedo is the percentage of incoming radiation reflected off a surface. The term comes from the Latin word for whiteness. When applied to the Earth, the albedo effect measures how much of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space.
The balance between energy absorbed by the earth and energy reflected back into space is important in determining how warm or cool the planet becomes. Albedo can range between 0 (no reflectance) and 1 (complete reflectance -like a mirror).
The average albedo of the Earth is .31, meaning the planet reflects about 31% of incoming solar radiation back into space. However, forests and deserts, oceans, clouds, snow, and ice all have different albedos, and changes in them can affect how much solar radiation the earth receives. For example, the albedos of forests lie in the range 0.07–0.15, while deserts have an albedo of around 0.3.
According to experts, global albedo is pretty stable and consistent and has no effect on global temperatures, but local effects of albedo might be more pronounced.
The albedo effect makes ice melting a non-linear process. Loss of albedo in the Arctic could heat the water sufficiently to release methane stored in ice crystals. Few people realize that methane is a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than CO2 since it’s more efficient at trapping radiation.
Accelerated warming across adjacent permafrost will happen with the loss of albedo in the Arctic, which will then release methane. Reduced Arctic albedo will also accelerate ocean warming, melting the edges of the Greenland ice cap, speeding up sea level rise.