As the Arctic is 30 degrees Celsius (50 F) warmer than what it should be right now, finding local solutions to cool down the poles suddenly doesn’t seem this far-fetched anymore.
Years ago I read a short article on how bringing more ice to the poles could help slow down climate change. A Professor of applied physics from Harvard, David Keith, was proposing a rather extreme approach to the problem. As per Inhabitat:
Injecting reflective particles into the high atmosphere could reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, counteracting the greenhouse gas effect. High CO2 levels would continue to trap heat in the atmosphere, but with less energy coming in, temperatures on the surface would go down.
Keith suggests using the method for a regional correction to restore the ice cover in the Arctic. In his paper, he claims that “with an average solar reduction of only 0.5%, it is possible to recover pre-industrial sea ice extent.” A separate paper shows that this could all be done with a few modified Gulf stream jets and is estimated to cost around $8 billion, which is about the price of a installing a major oil pipeline.
The new project is different and looks a little less far-fetched and more straightforward. To The Guardian:
Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap.
The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change.
“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.
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: $500bn (£400bn).
This sum might look like a staggering amount of money, but when you know that according to the International Monetary Fund, direct and indirect fossil fuels subsidies are almost two trillion dollars per year, you think again. Half a trillion over a decade to help slow down global warming doesn’t look like a lot of money after all.
But this kind of projects – called geoengineering – is not without risk. Our global ecosystem is very complex and doing anything to it could have unintended consequences. This is why large-scale geoengineering like these are banned by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. But will further warming prompt considering extreme solutions ?
In the meantime, we need to keep on decreasing global greenhouse gases emissions, and do it much faster than what we are currently doing.
Image credits: NASA.