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NJIT solar physicists report paradox: Less sunlight, but temps rise

Less sunlight reaching the Earth's surface has not translated into cooler temperatures, according to a team of solar physicists at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). The scientists, who monitor the Earth's reflectance by measuring what is known as the moon's earthshine, have observed that the amount of light reflected by Earth -- its albedo -- has increased since 2000. The result has been less sunlight reaching the Earth's surface.

"Our findings have significant implications for the study of climate change," said Philip R. Goode, PhD, principal investigator and distinguished professor of physics at NJIT. "The results raise questions about how global temperatures can still rise when the amount of sunlight reaching the surface has decreased." The scientists find that the seemingly paradoxical result is due to an increase in the cloud cover coupled with a peculiar re-arrangement of the clouds, but are unsure why this is happening. This large variability of the clouds and albedo presents a fundamental, unmet challenge to our ability to understand and predict the Earth's climate.

Goode is the director of Big Bear Solar Observatory, California, where the observations were carried out. NJIT has owned and operated the observatory since 1997. Goode's findings are reported tomorrow in "Can the Earth's Albedo and Surface Temperatures Increase Together," published tomorrow by Eos (Jan. 24, 2006), the weekly newspaper of geophysics published by the American Geophysical Union. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration funded the research.

"Recently analyzed cloud data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) confirm the trend in reflectance," said Goode. "The data also reveal that from 2000 to now the clouds have changed so that the Earth may continue warming, even with declining sunlight. These large and peculiar variabilities of the clouds, coupled with a resulting increasing albedo, presents a fundame
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Contact: Sheryl Weinstein
sheryl.m.weinstein@njit.edu
973-994-3257
New Jersey Institute of Technology
23-Jan-2006


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