The continued warming of the globe due to human-induced climate change has resulted in the sustained melting of ice sheets and permafrost in the Arctic because of elevated air and water temperatures, thus creating concerns over the environmental and social impacts of rising sea levels, thawed layers of water and ground, and reduced ocean salinity.
Nonetheless, the situation has compelled scientists to explore options centered on geoengineering and climate engineering to avoid catastrophe, particularly by conceptualizing novel ideas and developing radical solutions to refreeze the Arctic.
Major Proposed Solutions to Refreeze the Arctic
1. Wind-Powered Water Pump
Physicist Steven Desch and his team from Arizona State University proposed the building of 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. During winter, these pumps would direct water to the surface where it would freeze, thereby thickening the cap.
The proposed method essentially reinforces the sea ice production in the Arctic. The team explained further that thicker caps would help extend the lifespan of the ice. In other words, through the proposed method, the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly.
An analysis published in the paper of Desch et al. in 2017 showed that it is possible to increase ice thickness above natural levels or by about one meter over the course of the winter using this approach. The paper also mentioned an estimated cost of USD 500 billion.
2. Re-iceberg-isation Hexagonal Tubular Ice Arctic
Another radical solution to refreeze the Arctic came from a team of designers from Indonesia. Spearheaded by architect Faris Kotahatuhaha, the proposal involved submarines capable of producing 16-foot-thick and 82-foot wide hexagonal icebergs for a one-month period. These artificial icebergs would interlock with one another to form large frozen masses.
The submerged vessels work by dipping beneath the sea surface to fill their central cavities with water, filtering out salt to raise the freezing temperature of the water by 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and covering the entire chambers with hatches to protect them from the sun. The idea won second prize in the ASA International Design competition.
However, estimates noted that replacing the ice in the Arctic at the same rate it has disappeared would require about 10 million submarines. The cost and other material implications of the proposal remain a collective hurdle to its implementation.
3. Marine Cloud Brightening
A solar radiation management and climate engineering technique called marine cloud brightening could also help reduce the rate of melting in the Arctic during summer and promote refreezing of ice during winter. It principally involves making the clouds brighter by injecting particles into the clouds to increase the amount of sunlight they reflect, thus blocking a fraction of incoming sunlight to create a cooling effect.
British physicist John Latham, engineering design professor Stephen Salter, and Graham Sortino specifically proposed using salt from seawater as a fundamental agent for marine cloud brightening. They developed a concept design for a floating vessel that could spray or fire fine mist of seawater from the surface and into the targeted banks of marine stratocumulus clouds.
Take note that Latham has proposed the idea since 1990. Further developing the idea with Salter and Sortino, they suggested a fleet of around 1500 uncrewed Rotor ships or Flettner ships that could spray seawater mists at a rate of approximately 50 cubic meters per second over a large portion over a large portion of the ocean surface.
4. Sand-Like and Silica-Based Hollow Microspheres
A nonprofit research organization called Ice911 based in the United States and headed by chemical and electrical engineer Leslie Field has spent the last decade developing and enhancing a reflective sand-like and silica-based material that could be scattered on ice to improve its reflectiveness, thus protecting it from the heat coming from the sun.
The team describes further the material as hollow glass microspheres made from a silicate glass. Furthermore, these microspheres float in the water so that they could remain reflective even as the ice melts during the summer. They are also considerably naturally and safe because silica is abundant in the natural environment.
Nevertheless, the team spearheaded by Field tested these microspheres over 15000 square meters of frozen lake in Alaska. Results published in a 2018 paper showed that the treated ice was more reflective and thus, thicker than untreated ice. Climate modeling showed that the method could cool the Arctic significantly and can rebuild the Arctic ice area and volume.
Justifying the Solutions to Refreeze the Arctic
Arguments against geoengineering and climate engineering that revolve around cost implications and long-term negative consequences. Nonetheless, the primary reason for developing solutions to refreeze the Arctic is anchored on the need to mitigate the risks and problems that would emerge from melting ice sheets, ice caps, and permafrost.
Melted ice masses based inlands such as those found in Greenland could drastically increase sea levels by up to several meters that in turn, would flood communities situated in coastal areas. Cities in New York and Hong Kong could be submerged underwater and become inhabitable.
Reduced ice in the polar caps would also heat the Earth further. Note that the albedo effect is based on a simple concept that white surfaces reflect sunlight. The ice and snow in the Arctic and Antarctic reflect about 80 percent of energy from the sun back to space. If these frozen masses malted, the darker ocean and land would absorb 90 percent of heat, thus accelerating global warming further.
Scientists believe further that the warming Arctic causes extreme weather conditions because it disrupts natural processes that control and create existing weather patterns. The temperature difference between the Arctic and the middle latitudes is one of the driving forces behind the jet stream, which is are fast flowing, narrow, meandering air currents in the atmosphere that form part of a global system that plays a role in weather conditions.
Other dangers associated with melting Arctic include reduced seawater salinity as freshwater locked in ice becomes released in the seawater, thus endangering marine life and ecosystem, and disrupting weather systems. There are also consequences from thawing permafrost, including the release of trapped carbon dioxide and methane, as well as of microbes that could wreck ecological and social havoc.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Association of Siamese Architects Under Royal Patronage. 2019. “Refreeze the Arctic: Re-iceberg-isation Hexagonal Tubular Ice Arctic. ASA International Design Competition. Association of Siamese Architects Under Royal Patronage. Available online
- Desch, S. J., Smith, N., Groppi, C., Vargas, P., Jackson, R., Kalyaan, A., … Hartnett, H. E. 2017. “Arctic Ice Management.” Earth’s Future. 5(1): 107-127. DOI: 10.1002/2016EF000410
- Field, L., Ivanova, D., Bhattacharyya, S., Mlaker, V., Sholtz, A., Decca, R., … Katuri, K. 2010. 2018. “Increasing Arctic Sea Ice Albedo Using Localized Reversible Geoengineering.” Earth’s Future 6(6): 882–901. DOI: 10.1029/2018EF000820
- Latham, J. 1990. “Control of Global Warming?” Nature. 347(6291): 339-340. DOI: 10.1038/347339b0
- Salter, S., Sortino, G., and Latham, G. 2008. “Sea-Going Hardware for the Cloud Albedo Method of Reversing Global Warming.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 366(1882): 3989–4006. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0136