ANTARCTICA: SAVING IT WITH ARTIFICIAL SNOW
18th July 2019 | Katie Bamber, Senior News Reporter
Last modified on December 19th, 2019
Scientists propose dumping trillions of tons of man-made snow on Antarctica in order to stop Antarctica’s ice sheets melting.
Antarctica’s ice is melting.
“Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, increasing global sea levels by 0.12 inch (3 millimeters) in that timeframe alone,” according to a major assessment funded by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
According to the study, ice losses from Antarctica are causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years.
Mountains and icebergs around Adelaide Island. Credit: BAS/Hamish Pritchard
So ice sheets melting causes global sea levels to rise.
“Recent studies have shown warmer ocean water is being pushed toward the colossal West Antarctic ice sheet, destabilizing it and speeding up the decline of its huge glaciers,” American media site CNET reports.
The threat of these huge ice deposits falling into the ocean is enormous.
“The overall effect of their decline has been calculated to eventually raise sea levels by approximately 3 meters or more, endangering cities like New York,” CNET states.
“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 contribution to sea level rise).”
Crevasses near the grounding line of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. Credit: University of Washington/I. Joughin
What can we do?
Well three scientists put forward a radical experiment to stop runaway instability in glaciers.
The study was published in the July Science Advances journal.
The radical project would dump 7,400 gigatons of snow on Antarctica.
It would see huge amounts of sea water pumped onto to the ice sheet to reverse decline.
But there are problems with this geoengineering experiment.
The cost would be huge.
The authors say it would present an “unprecedented effort for humankind.”
“Mostly, the problem lies in pumping the water out of the ocean, CNET writes.
“… which requires an enormous amount of energy.”
“The study suggests constructing a series of 12,000 wind turbines to enable this process to take place” – to pump artificial snow into two glaciers on the West Antarctic coast.
The team suggest that activity would result in a 2 – 5 centimetre drop in sea level.
“But the added weight of artificial snow falling on the surface would shore up the glaciers, improving their stability.”
The larger effects of such a scheme are yet to be ironed out.
“What are the lasting effects on the Antarctic ecosystem and what kind of knock-on effects would we see in ocean currents across the world?” CNET asks.
There are no answers to these questions right now.
CNET comments on what we do know about the Earth’s current default state:
Burning fossil fuels and pumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere, warming the planet and causing sweeping changes like threatening a million species with extinction or, you know, the ice sheets melting.
Considering the possibility of salvation in artificial Antarctic snow might be jumping a little far ahead.
“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.
@NASA Earthdata image