Albedo & Climate Change

When sunlight reaches Earth, it is either reflected or absorbed based on the properties of the surface it hits. In this activity, students will explore how the amount of light reflected or absorbed by a surface impacts that surface’s temperature, and what this relationship means for climate change on Earth.

If you are interested in having the Physics of Climate Change team join your classroom with this activity, please fill out this interest form. Please note that we can accommodate up to 40 students per session.

Recommended age

This activity is recommended for middle and high school students.

Demonstrations of this activity are acceptable for any K-12 student.

Estimated time

This activity takes approximately 50 minutes to complete.



Students should be walked through the slides in the Teacher Facing Materials prior to the activity. Otherwise, no prior knowledge is needed.

Learning goals

  1. Define albedo.
  2. Compare how reflective two surfaces are based on their albedos.
  3. Describe the relationship between a surface’s albedo and temperature after being exposed to light.
  4. Explain why Earth’s climate is impacted by a change in albedo.
  5. Describe how climate change impacts Wisconsin.

Please consider providing feedback on our activity by completing this brief survey!

More resources

  1. Albedo & Climate Change background information
  2. How climate change is affecting ice cover on Wisconsin Lakes – Interactive Data from PBS Wisconsin
  3. Earth’s Albedo and the Sun’s Brightness Affect Climate – Interactive from UCAR
  4. Understanding the Arctic Polar Vortex – Article with infographics from NOAA
  5. Albedo and the Arctic Activity from NASA
  6. Climate Toolkit from the American Chemical Society
  7. Climate Change Concepts Fit Your Classroom: A Workbook for Teachers by Dr. Jerry Bell from UW–Madison Department of Chemistry
  8. KidWind Challenge