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Carbon dioxide: A record in the ice

You will need:

  • Dry ice from a local gas supplier
  • A small plastic container 1/2 filled with water
  • Detergent and food colouring
  • Tongs


1. Add a few drops of food colouring to the water.

2. Add dry ice piece by piece and allow it to sublimate rapidly.

3. As you add the dry ice you will notice it starting to form clumps at the bottom of the container.
This is where the surrounding water cools down enough to freeze.

4. Keep adding dry ice until a solid clump of ice/dry ice is at the bottom of the container. Within the ice you will no doubt have small white 'frozen bubbles' of carbon dioxide.

5. If you wish, you can add a small squirt of detergent into the mix to trap the bubbles of carbon dioxide leaving the solution.

Why Does This Happen?

When you make an ice cube, you invariably trap very minute air bubbles within the ice. The humble ice cube effectively is acting as a time capsule, holding air inside it from when it was formed. Air contains many gases, some of which are suggested to enhance global warming.
As polar ice can be thousands of years old, climatologists work within these remote regions to study the ice for changes in composition of atmospheric gases over thousands of years

The data is collected from ice cores, effectively long tubes of ice taken from vertical sections of glaciers. As each season produces a different layer of snow, the ice cores can be 'read' quite accurately, a process similar to dating sedimentary deposits in riverine areas or the determining seasonal variation using growth rings of trees.

Each year has it's own record of gases within it, therefore scientists can use this record as a monitoring tool for dramatic changes in our atmosphere. One such dramatic change has been the rapid rise in carbon dioxide levels found within the these ice cores, a gas strongly suspected as causing the most damage in trapping excess solar heat energy within our atmosphere.

More on global warming, also known as the enhanced greenhouse effect
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Reference: Brady, J. E. & Holum, J. R. (1993). Chemistry. The Study of Matter and Its Changes. John Wiley & Sons, New York

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