Our solution (hollow glass microspheres, which can be thought of as a type of floating white sand) is made from a silicate glass which is mostly silicon dioxide (“silica”). Silica is a compound made of two of the earth's most abundant materials: silicon and oxygen. The mass of Earth’s crust is 59% silica, the main constituent of more than 95% of the known rocks.
This is a safe choice for animals and ecosystems because all life on Earth has co-evolved with it in various forms on land, in our rocks, and dissolved in our oceans. It is a safe form of the material, large, amorphous and round enough to not cause harm to living creatures or the environment. And this material is bright and reflective, not like a transparent glass lens, but like reflective white sand or snow.
A Natural Cycle
Silica is by far the safest element we could use because all life has co-evolved with it in various forms on land, in our rocks, and dissolved in our oceans.
Humans, animals, birds, and fish alike ingest silica regularly. Birds look for and select larger grains of silica to aid digestion in their stomachs and fish swim through it at about one part per million of ocean water. Most importantly, because we've all co-evolved with silica, it does not bioaccumulate (i.e. it doesn’t become concentrated inside the bodies of living things).
Our material breaks down to become a part of the 2.8 billion million tonnes that currently exist in the ocean, feeding the natural silica cycle on which so many organisms depend.
2.8 million billion tonnes or metric tons
Amount of silica already present in the ocean
246.3 billion tonnes or metric tons
Amount of silica added to the ocean annually from natural sources
Less than 0.000004%
Potential addition to the amount of silica already added to the ocean annually
Sand silica can actually be a boon to the global silica cycle and ecosystems as long as they're over the size threshold that’s deemed harmful to life when breathed in, 10 micrometers. Our silica microspheres average between 35-60 micrometers, well above that 10 micrometer threshold.
So far our climate modeling that takes into account weather patterns in the Arctic over the long- and short-term, says that Spring is likely the best time to deploy. This will help ice last longer into the summer months and can help to eventually rebuild multi-year reflective ice.
Interestingly, because snow is extremely reflective, if snow did cover our material it would actually be beneficial. When the snow eventually melts, our material is able to take over reflecting the sunlight, protecting the less-reflective ice underneath.
Floatable: each silica microsphere is hollow inside and fills up with air. As the ice melts, our microspheres float to the top allowing for continued reflecting radiation.
Chemically unreactive: not prone to chemical reaction
Wettable: sticks to ice and water the second it hits the surface
Hydrophilic: doesn’t attract oil-based pollutants
Perfectly spherical: no jagged edges