Are the new ideas to stop climate change crazy or potential panaceas?
Wednesday, May 09, 2018
What do reflective sand, water pumps, tiny flying robots, and space umbrellas all have in common? They are all projects intended to stop climate change and the disastrous melting of Arctic ice.
Now that climate change is more widely accepted, we have just as many solutions as we do concerned people. After all, the idea that the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free by 2030 is overwhelming, unimaginable, and devastating to many people.
But is there one magic bullet that can make all this warming disappear?
NASA calculates that 13 percent of sea ice vanishes every decade. The National Snow and Ice Data Center states that "the Arctic had reached a seasonal maximum of 5.59 million square miles – the second-lowest peak extent in the 39-year satellite record."
The Arctic ice cap has lost a shocking 80 percent of its volume since 1979.
What melting sea ice means is a reduced icy surface — called “albedo” — to reflect light. Instead, the dark ocean absorbs light, which speeds up the warming process and further exacerbates the melting.
What to do? As we lose the ice’s reflective quality, we need another reflective substance to do ice’s work, right? That’s one organization’s answer.
At North Meadow Lake near the Alaskan town of Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, one innovative solution to all of this warming is being tested in a project referred to as Ice911.
According to the project's website: "We can preserve Arctic ice by spreading our eco-friendly reflective sand on top of ice in a strategic location of the Arctic."
This safe and inexpensive sand, made from silica microspheres, will be spread across 15,000 to 50,000 square kilometers of ice. Silica is a substance commonly found in everyday products like toothpaste.
Ice911 reports that it has already tested the sand on four ice acres in Utqiaġvik. The organization also runs a smaller, accessible test site in Minneapolis, with previous sites in California and Canada.
The goal here is to launch a large-scale project north of Utqiaġvik in the Fram Strait (Beaufort Gyre) by 2020. This northern location has been chosen because it can catch southward floating ice that melts in warmer waters. The cost for this effort? $750 million, but no one knows who’ll pay for it yet.
Other urgent efforts at stopping warming are in the works from other scientific and technological sectors.
For example, if the goal is to block sun absorption, why not geoengineer a giant space umbrella to keep the sun’s rays from hitting the earth?
As far-fetched as this sounds, European Union, NASA, and Royal Society officials are considering a light blocking umbrella as a solution.
Here’s the catch: "the shade would be installed in an area of outer space that’s balanced between the gravity of the Earth and the Sun – the L1 point – about a million miles away."
You heard it right. The shade has to be installed a million miles away in outer space. No problem, right? We’ll get right on that!
If that doesn’t sit right with you, what about millions of wind-powered water pumps? Arizona State University scientists think that extra Arctic sea ice can be added by pushing seawater onto existing ice and freezing it. They propose a $500 billion network of 10 million functioning pumps over the next decade.
Steve Desch, an ASU theoretical astrophysicist working on the project, suggests that making more ice using wind-powered pumps might sound crazy, but “what’s really crazy is doing nothing while the Arctic melts.”
Astronomer Roger Angel, who wants to use 16 trillion butterfly-like flying space robots to "deflect sunlight with a transparent film pierced with tiny holes" certainly agrees with Desch that something has to be done, even if it sounds crazy.
Whether more experimental geoengineering projects with their own burdens like expense and pollution production will be more effective than simple emissions reductions is hotly debated. Meanwhile, the climate change crisis continues, and more aware people with more solutions are coming to the table for support and funding.
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