Freeze again the Arctic. It may sound an oxymoron but climate scientists are seriously considering a massive geoengineering project to save the Arctic from becoming ice-free.
The idea is not only deemed radical. Refreezing the Arctic also comes at a massive cost — $500 billion for over 10 years.
Ice-Free Arctic By 2030
The Arctic sea ice is under threat as the temperature in some parts rises 20 degrees Celsius above normal. Forecasters warned that an ice-free Arctic, which is expected to happen in 2030, will be catastrophic for the global climate.
The concern for the state of the Arctic is not new. NASA climate scientist Claire Parkinson first investigated the impact of global warming on the Arctic in 1978.
Parkinson predicted the sharp drop of sea ice levels in the Arctic due to the sharp increase of carbon dioxide from pre-industrial level.
She was a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research at the time she conducted the study. She warned that doubling the carbon dioxide level would result to an ice-free Arctic probably by the middle of the 21st century.
Parkinson's prediction, considered a breakthrough, is now happening in the Arctic even when the carbon dioxide levels have not yet doubled.
Parkinson was the "first to put together the thermodynamic sea ice model," Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Date Center, said.
Refreeze The Arctic
While the prospect of an ice-free Arctic is fast becoming a reality, the situation is not totally hopeless. The present rate of ice melt can somehow be mitigated.
Steve Descj, a professor of astrophysics at Arizona State University, is one of the proponents to refreeze the Arctic by placing 10 million pumps with wind turbines around the ice.
The idea, according to Desch, is to draw seawater below the sea ice, spread it over the surface where "heat has to be released and conducted to the surface - that's where it's coldest."
Desch said the trick would "increase the rate of freezing, possibly adding a meter to the thickness of the ice" during the Arctic winter.
The technology is expected to restore the ice level to where it was 20 years ago.
This proposed geoengineering project, which should be massive to have a substantial effect, would cost around $500 billion for a ten-year period.
Beyond Cost, The Project Might Disrupt The Food Chain
The biggest hurdle to the proposed project is not the huge amount of money needed to implement it but the effect of siphoning off large amount of water from the sea ice to the food chain.
Ian Bruce, the director of science and policy at the David Suzuki Foundation, said that before jumping on the project, there is a need to make sure "we're not swapping one problem for another."
Bruce warned of disrupting the food chain when "vast amounts of seawater from the ocean and redistributing it to the surface will have an impact on plankton and other species."
He also called for caution in investing billions of dollars on a project that might solve skin-deep of the problem with no long-term effect.
Desch played down the scepticism. His team is planning to develop the prototype of the project and test it on the Canadian Arctic in the future.
He admitted, however, the technology cannot solve the impact of climate change.
If the CO2 emissions remain unchecked, Desch said, the geoengineering technology would not work in the long term.
At its best, the technology could only "buy time" and stave off the melting away of the sea ice.