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Beyond Earthly Skies

Ice-Albedo Feedback on Terrestrial Planets

24 Aug 2013, 12:46 UTC
Ice-Albedo Feedback on Terrestrial Planets
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The ice-albedo feedback is expected to play an important role in determining the climates of many terrestrial planets. It is based on the positive feedback between decreasing surface temperatures, an increase of snow and ice cover, and an associated increase in the planet’s overall reflectivity, which then further decreases surface temperature. Basically, the ice-albedo feedback describes the possible runaway cooling of a planet’s surface. This can cause a terrestrial planet to be locked in a snowball state where ice and snow completely covers the planet from Pole to Pole.Previous studies have shown that the strength of the ice-albedo feedback is reduced for terrestrial planets around M-dwarf stars. This is because M-dwarf stars emit mainly in the near-infrared where the snow/ice reflectivity is low. In comparison, our Sun emits primarily in the visible where the snow/ice reflectivity is high. A recent study by Paris et al. (2013) investigates the influence of a planet’s atmosphere on the ice-albedo feedback.Artist’s impression of a frozen terrestrial planet with ice covering much of the planet. Credit: Scott RichardThe study shows that for a planet with a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere, the ice-albedo feedback is suppressed whereby the difference in the planet’s reflectivity between the ice ...

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