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Salt clouds relieve some Arctic warming

Sea spray creates a diffuse filter for the sun’s warming rays

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4:25pm, April 22, 2011

Earth’s warming in recent years has had an exaggerated impact in the Arctic. There, temperatures have soared relative to temperate areas, resulting in an increased summer melting of sea ice. But new research indicates that the local warming would be even more dramatic if it weren’t for salt sprays kicked up by whitecaps from the Arctic’s increasingly open waters.

Snow and sea ice reflect much of the sun’s warming rays back into space. As an increasing share of the Arctic Ocean’s year-round cover of sea ice has disappeared, the sea surface has darkened — or reduced its albedo — and become an increasingly better absorber of solar energy. The open water starts to develop in spring and doesn’t ice over again until fall. Year-round ice is ice that survives the summer.

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