Researchers Have A Wild Proposal to Use Glass to Save The Arctic – But It Could Backfire Badly

Researchers have discovered that a layer of microspheres would accelerate ice melt rather than slow it.

In 2018, a study stated that glass powder would increase the amount of sunlight reflected and give sea ice room to recover.

Satellite data shows sea ice in the Arctic is “melting at a frightening rate.” It shows the previous approach was not the right answer.

“Our results show that the proposed effort to halt Arctic sea-ice loss has the opposite effect of what is intended,” says Melinda Webster, a polar scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. “And that is detrimental to Earth’s climate and human society as a whole.”

Webster worked with University of Washington atmospheric scientist Stephen Warren to test the claims of the 2018 modeling study to reach a solution.

“Layers of microspheres can make new, thin ice more reflective, as the 2018 study showed. But the effect of the glass beads would be minimal because thin ice mostly occurs in autumn and winter when there is little sunlight”, Webster and Warren write.

In spring, Arctic Sea ice is covered in bright-white, deep snow. It is highly reflective and adding glass beads would darken sea ice surfaces instead and the result would be higher ice loss.  

“Because hollow glass microspheres absorb some sunlight, spreading them onto sea ice would darken bright surfaces such as snow-covered ice,” Webster and Warren write. “The net result is the opposite of what was intended: spreading hollow glass microspheres would warm the Arctic climate and speed sea-ice loss.”

“The use of microspheres as a way to restore Arctic Sea ice isn’t feasible,” Webster says. “While science should continue to explore ways to mitigate global warming, the best bet is for society to reduce the behaviors that continue to contribute to climate change.”

The new study was published in Earth’s Future.

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