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“Insane” plan to save arctic sea ice

  • March 17, 2024
  • 3 min read
“Insane” plan to save arctic sea ice

As sea-ice in the Arctic vanishes, the dark ocean surface absorbs more of the sun’s energy, leading to accelerated warming. As a result, researchers hope to thicken it to stop the ice to stop it from melting away.  

Throughout the world, engineers and scientists use various methods to slow down climate change including planting trees and burying carbon underground. But more experimental measures aim to take it a step further, hoping to reduce the energy absorbed by the planet.

Some however disagree, arguing that these methods may be a distraction from the crucial step of reducing carbon emissions. They believe that these could end up doing more harm than good. But a small number of advocates say that this approach could offer a helping hand alongside other steps to combat climate change.

The goal of this experiment is to thicken enough sea-ice to slow down or even reverse the melting that has happened elsewhere. Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, whose team at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Climate Repair is behind the project that one scientists called “quite insane.”

“We don’t actually know enough to determine whether this is a good idea or bad idea,” says Dr Fitzgerald. The researchers have been working in Cambridge Bay, a small Canadian village in the Arctic Circle.

“It’s quite cold,” Andrea Ceccolini of Real Ice, a British company leading the trip, told the BBC. “It’s about -30C with a strong wind, which brings the temperature to -45C with wind chill factor.”

The team are drilling a hole in the sea-ice that would naturally form in winter, pumping around 1,000 litres of  seawater every minute across the surface. When exposed to the cold winter air, it quickly freezes, thickening the ice on the top. It also compacts the snow, a vital step as fresh snow works as an insulating layer, allowing the ice to form more easily. “The idea is that the thicker the ice [at the end of winter], the longer it will survive when we go into the melt season,” Ceccolini explains.

But it’s too early to say whether this would work. “The vast majority of polar scientists think this is never going to work out,” according Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at the University of Exeter. Siegert is not involved in this project.

One concern is that saltier ice could melt more rapidly in the summer months. There’s also the logistical challenge of scaling up the project. The BBC estimates that around 10 million wind-powered pumps would be needed for just a tenth of the Arctic.

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