An MIT group recently published a technical research article in the “Journal of Physics D” which implies that carbon dioxide destroys glacial and polar ice, and through a complex mechanism only a specialized scientist would dream of. The MIT laboratory found that higher levels of carbon dioxide, regardless of temperature, cause ice to weaken and fracture more rapidly. If the ice-weakening-from-carbon-dioxide lab results apply in the big world of glaciers and polar ice caps, we have an explanation for shrinking Arctic Ocean ice cover, and glaciers’ fast retreats, beyond global warming alone. Higher temperatures melt ice more easily once large sheets of ice are split into smaller pieces, just as a snow cone will melt more quickly than an ice block. CO2′s old sins aggravate the situation; higher temperatures caused by skyrocketing greenhouse gas concentrations melt both the snow cone and the ice block.
Distinguished scientists have studied the upward temperature spiral ice loss will probably cause, particularly as more solar energy is absorbed by open ocean water rather than being reflected back into space by mirrors of white ice . The arctic’s past, present and possible future, and ice loss’s effects on climate in the rest of the globe, were skillfully dissected by David Spratt in the linked “Climate Code Red” article. The bottom line is that rising levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere cause new, often unexpected, positive feedback loops. Man has forced changes in the atmosphere by generating more CO2 than Earth can keep up with, and forced changes in one natural system can lead to unwelcome shifts in other natural systems as our infinitely complex planet adjusts. I wish I could report good news from climate scientists, but not today. The MIT results just underline humankind’s reasons to cut down on mining-burning coal, oil and gas, and to cut now.
Image by Alan Vernon “Ice calving from Hubbard Glacier, Alaska 3/5″ via http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanvernon/3926578704/in/photostream/.