A striking feature of the Earth system is that the Northern and Southern Hemispheres reflect identical amounts of sunlight. This hemispheric albedo symmetry comprises two asymmetries: The Northern Hemisphere is more reflective in clear skies, whereas the Southern Hemisphere is cloudier. Here we show that the hemispheric reflection contrast from differences in continental coverage is offset by greater reflection from the Antarctic than the Arctic, allowing the net clear-sky asymmetry to be dominated by aerosol. Climate model simulations suggest that historical anthropogenic aerosol emissions drove a large increase in the clear-sky asymmetry that would reverse in future low-emission scenarios. High-emission scenarios also show decreasing asymmetry, instead driven by declines in Northern Hemisphere ice and snow cover. Strong clear-sky hemispheric albedo asymmetry is therefore a transient feature of Earth’s climate. If all-sky symmetry is maintained, compensating cloud changes would have uncertain but important implications for Earth’s energy balance and hydrological cycle.
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- Communications Earth & Environment
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