Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

Saving Arctic Ice Using Glass Beads

Arctic Ice

matt holmes/

The California nonprofit Arctic Ice Project is proposing to scatter a thin layer of reflective silica glass particles over parts of the Arctic in an effort to protect it from the sun and help ice to re-form. Engineer Leslie Field, an adjunct lecturer and chief technical officer at Stanford University, says they are trying to break a self-destructive feedback loop.

An underrated feature of Arctic sea ice is the ability of its bright, white surface to reflect light. The frigid poles have acted for millennia as a massive umbrella that helps keep the planet cool and climate stable. Now much of that ice is rapidly melting. As temperatures rise, the reflective white ice dissolves into darker blue water that absorbs more of the sun’s energy instead of reflecting it into space. Warmer water accelerates melting, which means yet more absorption of heat, which drives further melting, in a cycle that is part of the reason why the Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the planet. In July, the ice cover was as low as it has ever been at the same time of year.