A trio of scientists have a radical idea for a geoengineering project aimed at stopping runaway instability in Antarctic glaciers. A new study published yesterday in the journal Science Advances proposes a drastic decades-long project that would pump massive amounts of ocean water to the ice sheet which would add 7,400 gigatons (7.4 trillion tons) of “artificial snowfall” and reverse the decline.
CNET reports that by simulating the current effects on Antarctica’s ice sheets and the changes they experience with increasing snowfall the researchers mapped out a process that could potentially halt the ice loss. Recent studies have demonstrated that warmer ocean water is being pushed toward the West Antarctic ice sheet which acts as a destabilizer, speeding up melting:
“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. That is a very unstable position, and causes a positive feedback effect which accelerates the retreat (and hence contribution to sea level rise).” –Glaciologist Sue Cook from University of Tasmania
The project would be astronomically expensive and with immense technical challenges that the authors describe as an“unprecedented effort for humankind” but with the threat of rising sea levels effect on coastal areas around the world it might be worth a swing.Glaciologist Sue Cook warns that this is not a magic bullet to fix melting glaciers and we need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to efforts to combat climate change:
“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.”