Will This Radical Approach Save Arctic Sea Ice?

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-06 09:37

Sea ice in the Arctic is in danger of disappearing. Won't someone think of the polar bears?

Water pumps and windmills may be all it takes to restore Arctic sea ice.

Ice in the Arctic sea is melting at an alarming rate, thanks to rising global temperatures. Sea ice loss can have quite an impact on the environment. Ice in the Arctic helps keep the planet's temperatures from going too high and regulates global weather patterns. Last year, news broke that sea ice in the Arctic reached its second-lowest level on record.

Restoring Arctic sea ice is an important undertaking, but scientists thought that it was quite complicated. Apparently, however, it's not as complicated as it seemed. Floating ice floes grow larger as water freezes and ice forms on the bottom of the floes. Freezing releases heat, and the heat goes up through the ice and escapes into the air. Thus, thicker ice means greater chances of trapped heat. This can slow down the formation of ice. With the planet's rising temperatures, ice formation needs to keep up with and ideally exceed the rate of ice loss.

How, therefore, can we “refreeze” the Arctic?

Pumps and Windmills

Will we be able to save sea ice in the Arctic before it's too late?

While there should be a global effort to slow global warming, scientists say that it's not enough to save Arctic sea ice. Steven Desch, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, has found a way to supplement efforts to keep global temperatures from rising too fast.

If the formation of ice on the bottom of the floes can be problematic, then why not build ice on top of the floes? Desch proposes pumping cold water from under ice floes and pouring it directly on top of the ice. The water will freeze more quickly over the top of the ice during the polar winter, and thicker ice will form. Once the summer rolls around, there will be a smaller chance of ice reaching dangerously low levels.

Of course, as of now, this idea is theoretical. Desch claims that the necessary technology isn't at all complicated—it's just pumps and windmills. The scale, however, is what's worth talking about. Desch and his colleagues propose placing 10 million wind-powered pumps all over the Arctic sea to help the growth of sea ice. Each pump will be capable of building a meter-thick layer of sea ice. This layer will cover an area of about 100,000 square meters.

The project will cost $50 billion.

The Race Against Time to Save Arctic Sea Ice

The theory behind the project may be simple, but the implementation is not. Setting the costs aside, the logistics can extremely difficult. The Arctic has a harsh environment, and a project like this won't be easy to build. Frozen pipes are a real possibility, and that can hinder the process of building sea ice. Fortunately, a number of engineers have been figuring out how to work around the problems the Arctic's environment can pose.

The project is huge and quite expensive, but at least it's not impossible and the science behind it seems sound. Desch wants to ensure that the details of the project will be polished by the time governments are willing to do something about Arctic sea ice loss. Hopefully, that time won't come too late.

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