Carbon Dioxide May Damage Glaciers

Caution: Carbon dioxide may cause melting. Markus Buehler, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, and student, Zhao Qin, found evidence that the increase of carbon dioxide molecules in our atmosphere decreases the material strength and facture toughness of ice. The result? Rising global temperatures and increased melting of our ice caps and glaciers.

The researchers built a computer model of water ice with a simulated crack. When carbon dioxide gas entered the mix, the gas compounds broke hydrogen bonds in the water molecules, making the ice more fragile.

The gas molecules seemed drawn to the tip of the crack; they traveled in a flipping motion along the surface leaving behind broken hydrogen bonds. The carbon dioxide clustered at the tip of the crack and attacked the water molecules by trying to bond with them. This made it easier for the fracture to expand and grow.

“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 Buehler. “The consequences of these changes remain to be explored by the experts, but they might contribute to changes of the global climate,” he said.