Working with computer-generated simulations, Stephen Vavrus, an associate scientist at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that in the absence of snow cover, global temperatures would likely spike by about eight-tenths of a degree Celsius.
Such an increase, he said, would represent as much as a third of the warming that climate change experts predict would occur if levels of greenhouse gases were to double.
"This was not just a 'what-if' question," said Vavrus, whose work comes amidst mounting reports of melting Arctic ice. "I wanted to quantify the influence of global snow cover on the present-day climate because that has relevance for the type of climate changes we are expecting in the future."
Vavrus detailed his findings Monday, during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.