To better engage you on critical Earth science topics, NEO launched a new web-based analysis tool. This Analysis Blog explores NEO data sets used in ClimateBits: Albedo. Albedo is the fraction of incoming solar energy that is immediately reflected back to space.
Note that these examples are intended for curious people looking for hands-on Earth data exploration. Primary scientific research will require additional analyses through other methods. For the basics on how to use the NEO tool, see ‘Analysis tool in 10 easy steps’.
Reflected shortwave radiation
Categorized under ‘Energy’, maps of reflected shortwave radiation show the amount of solar or shortwave energy (in Watts per square meter) reflected by the Earth. These are CERES observations combined with MODIS measurements, available since July, 2006. Brighter colors indicate more reflection while dark blue indicates the least reflection. The brightest, most reflective regions are associated with clouds, snow and ice. Because clouds move quickly, they are best observed in daily maps. The 8 day and monthly composites mute transient weather patterns. More persistent features, such as polar ice caps, can be observed and compared at longer time increments. The least reflective regions are dark surfaces without cloud cover, such as forests and the ocean. The poles are dark during their winters because of the absence of sunlight then.
Categorized under ‘Energy’ as well as ‘Land’, maps of albedo show how reflective land surfaces are from 0, meaning no reflection, to 0.9, indicating nearly all incoming solar energy is reflected. These maps are derived from MODIS measurements, available since February, 2000 at 16 day and monthly composites. Dark blue indicates the least reflection and white indicates the most. Black areas are missing data – over the ocean or due to cloud cover or lack of sunlight.
Comparison: different surfaces
Africa is a continent with the Sahara Desert north of savannah grasslands and then forests with thick vegetation. To see how different land cover impacts albedo and reflected radiation, we compare them during January, 2017. We limit our analysis to the area delineated by the yellow box (below, left). Use Data Probe and Plot transect to explore the whole geographic area, comparing and contrasting values of albedo and reflected radiation.
Notice that albedo and reflected radiation are highest over the Sahara Desert, except for the dark spot associated with the Tibesti mountains in northern Chad. Albedo and reflected radiation decline over the savannah grasslands, which are darker. Farther south, over the tropical rain forest, however, reflected radiation starts to rise while albedo continues to decline – likely due to evapotranspiration that promotes cloud formation.
A scatter plot of the transition zone between desert and savannah demonstrates the direct relationship between albedo and reflected radiation.