Some say we can face the facts about climate change or go extinct. If you’ve looked at the facts and agree, there’s an astrophysics professor with a plan.
To understand why some feel this is urgent, consider this experiment: The temperature of the water in a pot on the stove with ice cubes in it doesn’t heat up much … until the ice melts, then it heats up very quickly. Without ice as a buffer, you get a runaway reaction, the water boils off.
It’s not just the higher sea levels, hotter summers, stronger hurricanes or the food and water shortages that would make this urgent. The concern is extinction level changes like having our oxygen atmosphere evaporate into space to be replaced with methane.
Early Earth had a hazy, methane-filled atmosphere. A new research paper describes a period more than 2.4 billion years ago, when Earth’s atmosphere was filled with a thick, methane-rich haze.
Where did all that methane from the ancient earth’s atmosphere go? If a lot of it is frozen in ice under the oceans and the oceans keep warming as they have been, just a few degrees could cause the methane to re-enter the atmosphere, kicking off even faster warming.
Not everyone agrees. Ira Glickstein, for example, is not concerned because he says there isn’t really enough ice on earth to make the melting a concern. If both the Arctic/Greenland and Antarctic Ice were to melt, that would account for a reduction in warming of only about 2⁰C (3.6⁰F).
For the concern about methane ice, there is a counter argument as to why it might not be a big deal.
The breakdown of methane hydrates due to warming climate is unlikely to lead to massive amounts of methane being released to the atmosphere, according to a recent interpretive review of scientific literature performed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Rochester. … most of the methane released by gas hydrates never reaches the atmosphere. Instead, the methane often remains in the undersea sediments, dissolves in the ocean, or is converted to carbon dioxide by microbes in the sediments or water column.
We obviously need to come to an agreement on this stuff. If we are in trouble, here is a plan to bring back the ice.
Steve Desch is a professor of astrophysics at the School of Earth & Space Exploration at Arizona State University who’s come up with a novel plan to rescue the rapidly melting Arctic. He and a team of university colleagues 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.
According to Desch, this is an urgent climate-change issue facing the planet. In a research article in the journal Earth’s Future called “Arctic Ice Management,” he described it in alarming terms.
“As the Earth’s climate has changed, Arctic sea ice extent has decreased drastically,” he wrote. “It is likely that the late-summer Arctic will be ice-free as soon as the 2030s.”
Already, the region’s warming trend is breaking records. Last November, when sea ice should have begun thickening and spreading over the Arctic as winter set in, the region warmed up. Temperatures should have plummeted to -25 degrees C but reached several degrees above freezing instead. This warming is unprecedented, according to researchers. Even in January the Arctic sea ice was the lowest in 38 years since satellites began surveying the region, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
This is a situation that threatens the planet’s sustainable future. The loss of the Arctic’s summer sea ice cover not only disrupts life in the region, endangering many of its species. It would also trigger further warming of the planet by removing ice that reflects solar radiation back into space, disrupt weather patterns across the northern hemisphere and melt permafrost – releasing more carbon gases into the atmosphere.
He said that it’s likely already too late to reverse the situation by decreasing temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, and simply telling people not to use fossil fuels isn’t enough. This being the case, his article proposes restoring the region’s sea ice artificially, by using wind power to pump water to the surface during the winter, where it will freeze more rapidly.
Right now, it’s only a proposal. But the research article was featured in such news outlets as The Guardian and CNN no doubt thanks in part to its eye-popping estimated price tag of $500 billion.
That may sound like a lot, but Desch said that the time has come to start thinking big.
“Every year, there is more ice melting in the summer and less freezing in the winter,” he told CNBC. “We’re losing 300 cubic kilometers per year on average. The Arctic is losing ice the size of an ice cube that’s four miles on each side; [that’s 64 cubic miles annually].”
Desch proposes the use of wind power to pump water from below the sea ice to the surface, in order to accelerate the rate of freezing. The technology that he proposes to do the job is utterly simple.
“Imagine a buoy bigger than a minivan, with a wind turbine on top,” he said. “One device could pump up enough water to increase the thickness of the ice by one meter over an area one-tenth of a square kilometer.”
While the buoy that Desch proposes is a simple bit of technology, his plan would require a lot of them to achieve the results he feels are appropriate. That’s where the $500 billion price tag comes in.
“We would need 10 million devices, at $50,000 per device,” he said.
He added that the entire $500 billion sum would not have to be used all at once. His plan that could be spread out over as much as a full decade to lessen the pain.
Still, this would be an enormous task, and his estimate accurately reflects the logistics involved in getting something this big up and running.
“This is sort of Manhattan Project or Iraq War in scope, so it’s not impossible if we make it a priority,” he said. “If you want to reverse that situation, you want to do something big. It’s not impossible. It’s big, but it’s not impossible.”
Desch’s proposal is not the only one that’s out there that addresses the rapidly melting Arctic ice. According to The Guardian, an alternative proposal involves artificially whitening the Arctic by scattering light-colored aerosol particles over it, which would reflect solar radiation back into space. Desch, however, isn’t looking to introduce anything new into the Arctic ecosystem.
“One advantage of our approach over other geoengineering ideas is it’s purely mechanical,” he said. “We’re not introducing any new chemicals into the environment. We’re proposing accelerating a process that naturally should be occurring, and trying to restore the ice to the point where it was 20 years ago.”
So who might foot the bill for this effort? Desch doesn’t believe it will be a single philanthropist or angel investor who will write a $500 billion check and get the ball rolling. In fact, he believes that an undertaking of this size should be the responsibility of numerous parties.
“We don’t think any one person would unilaterally do this, or should,” he said. “A project this size needs a government to get involved, and the restoration of sea ice is important at a local scale as well. Coastal erosion is accelerating and permafrost is dying, so I can imagine starting on a smaller scale there.”
— By Daniel Bukszpan, special to CNBC.com
If you want to help this happen, spread this idea. I think it be cool to see. We could be the generation that saves the earth for all future life.
Some people think we are spirits and wiping out all of humanity, therefore, would not be a big deal. Other people think humanity is a virus and wiping it out would not be a big deal. Still others feel they’ll be gone by then and so doesn’t matter what they do to the planet now. Some do care, however.
If a natural sun cycle and no human activity is warming us up, re-icing the poles could buy us a few more generations time to work on survival.
I think vote to do it. Give people jobs building the machines. Re-ice the poles!
What’s your vote?