Bad News Chemistry: Carbon Dioxide Makes Ice Weaker
It’s well established that, in the years to come, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the air will cause the climate to change, thereby leading to the ice caps melting at an accelerated rate and worldwide sea level rise. A new scientific finding, though, points at a troubling, entirely separate direct effect of carbon on ice—one that has nothing to do with warming at all.
As documented in a study published yesterday in the Journal of Physics D, researchers from MIT have discovered that merely being in the presence of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide causes ice to significantly weaken, with reduced material strength and fracture toughness, regardless of temperature. With enough carbon dioxide in the air, this alone could make glaciers more likely to split and fracture. Add in the fact that global temperatures will continue to warm—especially around the poles—and the combination of these two factors could mean that the ice caps will melt at even faster rates than experts have previously projected.
“If ice caps and glaciers were to continue to crack and break into pieces, their surface area that is exposed to air would be significantly increased, which could lead to accelerated melting and much reduced coverage area on the earth,” said the study’s lead author, Markus Buehler. “The consequences of these changes remain to be explored by the experts, but they might contribute to changes of the global climate.”