Far-infrared explains rapid Arctic Warming

Climate models aren’t perfect, they do a good job on large scales but miss a lot of smaller points. Arctic warming for example is consistently underestimated, as the region heats faster than the rest of the world. New research this week might help put these errors to an end.

According to Feldman et al 99% of the earths outgoing radition is between five and 100 microns (that’s one thousandth of a millimeter), but there has been almost no studies into the range of 15 to 100 otherwise known as far infrared. Its difficult to measure but could account for up to half of the energy of the earths surface. Currently models assume that all surfaces emit this spectra with 100% efficiency, Feldman et al’s research tells us that isn’t true.

Open oceans are far less efficient than sea-ice at emitting far-infrared, this means the Arctic ocean traps energy which models assume is released. This heat then contributes to sea-ice melt and creates a feedback of more-infrared stored and more heat trapped and complimenting albedo feedbacks. This explains the troublesome warming in winter when there is no sun. When they run models accounting for this storage they predict a rapid warming of the arctic (2°C in 25years). Far-infrared is highly correlated to a number of climate variables and can be measured in the field of by remote sensing, this little adaption could lead to far better model runs and climate predictions.

Source: PNAS

Original paper: Feldman et al (2014) Far-infrared surface emissivity and climate, PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1413640111


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Sam Alvis


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