The sad reality is that the ice sheets in Antartica are melting, but a group of scientist has proposed an ingenious but costly and rather ambitious solution to the problem — they want to dump tons of “artificial ice.”
A group of three scientists has recently published a study in the journal Science Advances on July 17 and proposes that we should dump 7.4 trillion tons of snow on Antarctica, suggesting that it could “stabilize” the runaway in the region’s glaciers.
Recent studies have revealed that warmer waters are being pushed to the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS), destabilizing it, and speeding up the melting process of the ice sheets and glaciers in Antartica. Because of this “unnatural” rate that the ice in the region is melting, scientists estimate that it would raise sea levels by approximately 10 feet (3 meters) or more. If this happens, many cities will be endangered.
“The associated sea-level rise of more than 3m would pose a serious challenge to highly populated areas including metropolises such as Calcutta, Shanghai, New York City, and Tokyo,” read the abstract of the study.
“The real concern is that many of these glaciers have a reverse bed slope, meaning that as they retreat, it exposes deeper and thicker ice to the ocean,” explains Sue Cook, a glaciologist at the University of Tasmania. “That is a very unstable position, and causes a positive feedback effect which accelerates the retreat (and hence [contributing] to sea-level rise).”
The new geoengineering project lead by Cook and her colleagues proposes to add 7,400 gigatons (7.4 trillion tons) of “artificial snowfall” to reverse the glacier decline. The project aims to simulate real ice and snowfall and if proven successful, could potentially stabilize the temperature in the region, as well as prevent the rapid melting of glaciers.
However, this project needs an “unprecedented effort for humankind,” and estimated costs reach boundaries that make government and institutions think twice before approving it.
According to the researchers, the biggest problem that could be faced by the project is how to pump out an immense amount of water from the ocean to be used for artificial snow. The study suggests constructing a series of 12,000 wind turbines to enable this process to take place and then pumping artificial snow into two glaciers on the West Antarctic coast.
This process alone could significantly cause a two to five-centimeter drop in the water level of the oceans. The mass that will be added to the glacier would be enough to stabilize and correct the drop.
“The other part of simulations reveals a stabilizing ice sheet, which we define as being characterized by grounding line equilibration and a loss in long-term ice volume by less than 5%. Whether stabilization takes place or not depends on whether the amount of added ice is sufficient to stop the previously initiated grounding line retreat,” they added.
But aside from budgetary and technical constraints, the entire project will also take a long time to be completed. Researchers estimate that it could take them at least ten years to completely stabilize the glaciers and solve the WAIS problem.
“Here, we show that the WAIS may be stabilized through mass deposition in coastal regions around Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. In our numerical simulations, a minimum of 7400 Gt of additional snowfall stabilizes the flow if applied over a short period of 10 years onto the region (−2 mm year−1 sea-level equivalent),” penned by the researchers.
Nonetheless, there is still a lot that needs to be ironed out in the project. The researchers are yet to explain who the project would affect the ecosystem in the West Antartic Ice Sheet, as well as how artificial snow would impact global water and ocean currents.
The researchers believe that there are other ways to mitigate the impacts of global warming and said that their proposal is just one way to do it. They encouraged people to continue their efforts in trying to stabilize the sea levels and fighting against climate change and global warming.
“Even if a geoengineering project such as this were possible, it certainly shouldn’t detract from the other urgent action which is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Cook notes.
Note: All images and diagrams used are taken from the study manuscript