$500b Needed to Save the Arctic
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with temperatures near the North Pole hitting an unheard-of 20°C warmer than average last year, things in the Arctic are undeniably grim.
But rather than sit by and watch as the sea ice disappears from the region at an unprecedented rate, scientists have hatched a novel plan to “refreeze” the Arctic, by installing some 10 million wind-powered pumps over the ice cap to spray seawater over the surface and replenish the sea ice, Science Alert reported.
“Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” lead researcher and Arizona State University physicist, Steven Desch, told the Guardian.
“It’s a good idea, but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”
Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500 billion.
The researchers estimate that 10 million wind-powered pumps could add an extra meter of sea ice onto the region’s current layer, which would help protect it from the globe’s rapidly increasing temperatures.
“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice,” Desch says. “In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly.”
The idea is to erect millions of wind-powered pumps around the Arctic region, which would disperse sea water onto the icy surface to freeze as an extra layer and thicken up the ice cap.
The team predicts that pumping 1.3 meters of water on the surface will result in the ice being thicker by 1 meter. In other words, that’s 7.5 kg per second of water, or 27 tons per hour.
“It is noteworthy that half of the ArcticSsea ice currently has a mean annual thickness of only 1.5 meter,” they report. “Adding 1 meter of ice in the course of one winter is a significant change.”
They also note that adding 1 meter will be like pushing time back by 17 years.
“Implementation over the entire Arctic in the early 2030s—in one year adding 1 meter of ice—would reset the clock to the present day, instead of the largely ice-free summer state one expects by the 2030,” they conclude.
Sea ice at both poles has been expected to decline as the planet heats up from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That trend is clear in the Arctic, where summer sea ice now covers half the area it did in the early 1970s. Sea ice levels in Antarctica are much more variable, though, and scientists are still unraveling the processes that affect it from year to year, according to Climate Central.
Antarctic sea ice set an all-time record low on Feb. 13.
In an article published on Feb. 7 in the New York Times, it was reported that a crack in the Larsen C ice shelf in the Antarctic now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf.
Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon.
The collapse of the Larsen C ice shelf may not sharply affect global sea level rise, but the collapse of other vulnerable ice shelves will, because the melting of those glaciers can cause much higher levels of ocean rise.