Climatological planetary albedo obtained from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) D-series flux dataset is broken down into contributions from the surface and atmosphere in cryosphere regions. The atmosphere accounts for much more of climatological planetary albedo (≥75%) than the surface at all times of the year. The insignificance of the surface contribution over highly reflective cryosphere regions is attributed mostly to the damping effect of the atmosphere. The overlying atmosphere attenuates the surface’s contribution to climatological planetary albedo by reducing the number of solar photons initially reaching the surface and the number of photons initially reflected by the surface that actually reach the top of the atmosphere.
The ISCCP datasets were also used to determine the relative contributions of the surface and atmosphere to seasonal and interannual planetary albedo variability in cryosphere regions. Even damped by the atmosphere to the same degree as in the climatological case, the surface contribution dominates the variability in planetary albedo on seasonal and interannual time scales. The surface accounts for about 75% of the change in climatological planetary albedo from one season to another with similar zenith angle and more than 50% of its interannual variability at nearly all times of the year, especially during seasons with extensive snow and sea ice extent. The dominance of the surface in planetary albedo variability is because surface albedo variability associated with snow and ice fluctuations is significantly larger than atmospheric albedo variability due to cloud fluctuations. The large effect of snow and ice variations on planetary albedo variability suggests that if cloud fields do not change much in a future warmer climate, a retreat of snow cover or sea ice would lead to a significant increase in net incoming solar radiation, resulting in an enhancement of high-latitude climate sensitivity.