New Scientist article The melting of the polar ice caps is changing the world.
The cryosphere – the atmosphere above the planet – is getting warmer, and that is changing how we think about the weather.
The ice caps, which hold the water and carbon dioxide trapped in the planet’s crust, are melting faster than ever.
If we don’t slow the process, the ice caps will collapse, causing catastrophic flooding and sea-level rise.
The melting of Arctic ice is the single biggest threat facing the planet, and scientists are racing to find ways to reverse the process.
A new study by a team led by Prof David Bamberger at the University of Reading suggests that we could reverse global warming in a few short years.
“The cryosphere is the only place on Earth where we are currently seeing changes that are rapid, even if the impacts are not immediate,” says Prof Bamberg.
He and his colleagues are looking at how a new type of ice called crystal ice can be grown from the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.
The idea is that, instead of the sea-ice being destroyed by the melting of ice caps and glaciers, the crystal ice will grow and store energy.
Prof Bambergel says the ice crystal is an alternative to ocean-derived carbon dioxide.
Instead of the ocean absorbing the CO2 from the atmosphere, the crystals absorb it, releasing it into the atmosphere.
For the study, Prof Bambgel’s team created a crystal-like layer in the ocean off Norway’s coast, which they then placed on land.
They then drilled into the ice to test the process of growing crystals from seawater.
This process, known as bio-crystallisation, takes place inside a cell.
The researchers then exposed the cells to the ice crystals, and monitored how they grow and how long they stayed on the ice.
After two weeks, the researchers found that the crystal crystals had grown at rates that were equivalent to the ocean capturing the CO 2 .
“It was quite remarkable to find out that they had survived the freezing temperatures,” says lead author Dr Joachim Jørgensen from the Norwegian Institute of Technology.
But Prof Bagger says the team could not prove that crystals were formed by a process known as polycrystalline polymers, or polymers made from the water.
They could only show that the ice had grown and stored energy.
“If we look at the physics, we see that it is a solid material and that there is a potential for the crystal to be a stable material,” he says.
While this is good news for scientists, it means that the research could not be used to reverse global climate change.
“For the time being, we cannot say that we can do anything about it, as it is not clear whether the crystal could be formed by the freezing of sea ice or by the CO² in the air,” says Dr Jøgensen.
To make a crystal, Prof Jørggensen and his team exposed the crystals to water and then put them in a glass jar filled with ice water.
“When we exposed the water to the crystals, the water became completely saturated, and this meant that we would need to freeze it down before we could produce the crystals,” he explains.
Instead, the team poured the crystals into glass jars and placed them in the fridge.
The water was frozen in place until the crystals formed, which was around two weeks later.
If you want to make crystals, you have to know how to grow them Prof Bagg says.
“The ice is an interesting model, and we have shown that this process can be used for the first time,” he adds.
“But we need to know what other processes are possible.”
While there is still a lot of work to do before the crystal-based approach to growing crystals can be deployed commercially, the results of this research have the potential to improve how we can manage our energy and resources.
It is a promising approach, but it is also a bit of a catch-22.
“[The crystals] have to be very stable.
But if they are not stable, they won’t be able to produce energy and they won