Scientists Say: Albedo

This word is a measure of how much light bounces off an object

snow prints

Freshly fallen snow reflects a lot of sunlight, giving it a very high albedo.

Andy/Flickr/Public domain

Albedo (noun, “Al-BEE-doh”)

This is a measure — usually a ratio or percentage — of how much radiation, or light, falling onto an object will be reflected off it. Usually, albedo refers to the amount of sunlight that an object bounces back into space. Light-colored objects — such as snow, fluffy clouds or white t-shirts — reflect a lot of sunlight, meaning they have a high albedo. Other substances — such as dark soil or water (which absorb sunlight well) — have a low albedo.

In a sentence

Extra thick clouds have a high albedo — so they might have a role to play in limiting the warming due to climate change.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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