Capsule of clean air from 1765 shows off carbon dioxide secrets buried in Antarctic ice

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Royal College of Art artist and sculptor Wayne Binitie takes a closer look at his glass sculpture containing air from the year 1765 which is on display at a new immersive exhibition 'Polar Zero' created in collaboration with British Antarctic Survey and global engineering and design firm Arup, at the Glasgow Science Centre to coincide with the Cop26 summit which takes place in Glasgow next month. Picture date: Wednesday September 29, 2020. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
Royal College of Art artist and sculptor Wayne Binitie takes a closer look at his glass sculpture containing air from the year 1765. (Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)

A sculpture with a capsule of glass containing Antarctic air from 1765 is to be shown off in Glasgow to highlight the damage wrought by the Industrial Revolution

Artist and sculptor Wayne Binitie spent five years working with scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to reclaim bubbles of air from ice cores from the Antarctic. 

The air shows how the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has changed since the Industrial Revolution began. 

The artwork will go on display in the Polar Zero exhibition at the Glasgow Science Centre during the COP26 climate conference. 

The year 1765 is considered a pivotal point: James Watt made efficiency improvements to the steam engine, helping to drive the Industrial Revolution.

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Binitie said: “The scale of the topic is so overwhelming and so complex that it can feel distant, even apocalyptic.

“People need something tangible to get hold of, that collapses that distance.”

Dr. Robert Mulvaney from the BAS said: “Snow falls in Antarctica year by year – but there’s no melting going on. 

“So the snow builds up and compresses all the years of snow beneath. As we drill down we’re driving further and further into the past – a bit like counting the rings of a big tree.”

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Dr Mulvaney said ice core analysis shows that in around 1765, the atmosphere was 280 parts of carbon dioxide per million, which had been pretty constant for about 10,000 years.

The average in the atmosphere in May this year was 419 parts per million.

The entire creation process has been captured on video and will be accessible online.

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Graham Dodd of global engineering specialist Arup said: “Exhibiting an ice core without it melting completely is a technical feat that requires precise calculations and creative thinking to construct the right level of insulation while still allowing the visitors to get up close to the ice.”

The exhibition will also feature other work involving similar themes.

Dr Paul Thompson, vice-chancellor of the RCA, said: “Wayne Binitie’s time capsule of the Earth’s atmosphere from the year 1765 captures all the magical curiosity of an insect fossilised in amber.

“A pre-industrial world, frozen in glass, provokes powerful emotions and demands a call to action from delegates at COP26.”

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