Earth's surface is studied with new technology

Researchers have developed a new and even more accurate way to measure the ability of Earth’s surfaces to reflect sunlight. The more accurate model helps to interpret any changes in the properties of Earth’s surfaces and their impact on climate change, for example. The new model also applies to other research.

Kuvituskuva lumikentästä.

An international team of researchers developed a calculation-based model for studying the reflectivity of Earth more quickly, accurately and reliably. Led by Jouni Peltoniemi, the team consisted of researchers from the Geodesy and Geodynamics Department of the National Land Survey of Finland, the University of Helsinki and the Institute of Physics and Technology of Ural Federal University.

A more precise model accounts for interference

The technology developed during the research project is ideal for studying grainy surfaces, such as sand and snow, both of which cover a significant part of Earth’s surface area.

'Surfaces like sand and snow consist of small grains. These grainy surfaces are easily irregular in terms of their structure and porousness, and they often contain dust, water droplets and other impurities', says research manager Peltoniemi.

The majority of previous models have ignored any surface interference, which has affected the reliability of the results. This new model is more detailed, as it applies several technologies in a unique way, taking more factors into account. The result is a model, which combines calculation formulas dependent on particle sizes, producing highly accurate measurement results.

Reflectivity properties describe the surface

Reflectivity properties of surfaces are an indication of the composition of the surface being studied and the melting of snow, for example. The results produced by the model are applicable to many purposes significant for society, such as for increasing the accuracy of the remote sensing of Earth.

The model is also suitable for research related to space debris, because it helps to identify a specific debris material and, therefore, to determine how different debris could be guided to prevent collisions.

Results are suitable for studying climate change 

Accurate results can also be used in climate change research. By measuring the reflectivity of areas covered by snow, for example, we can obtain accurate information about how much sunlight is reflected back into space and how much of it stays here to warm the atmosphere.

These research results can be used as part of larger calculations to forecast Earth’s temperatures far into the future. Our researchers have participated in joint measuring trips with the Finnish Meteorological Institute and a large group of international researchers.

'We already know that the properties of snow affect the progress of climate change, which means that any changes must be addressed properly. In this, a more accurate model is really helpful', Peltoniemi says in summary.

The research project, funded by the Academy of Finland and the European Research Council, continues. The model will later be expanded to note different atmospheric media and the impact of the atmosphere and temperatures. Even more accurate technologies may offer an alternative way to address different clouds in satellite findings and in planetary radiation research, for example.

Additional information:

Jouni Peltoniemi, research manager, +358 50 465 4953,

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