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Planet Care

169: Glacial Engineering

Problem:

Global warming is melting glaciers and leading to catastrophic sea-level rise and flooding.

Solution:

Subsea glacial engineering


Michael Wolovick, a glaciology postdoc at the Atmosphere and Ocean Sciences Program, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University and John C. Moore Professor of Climate Change at Arctic Centre, University of Lapland and visiting chief scientist at the College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, China propose subsea glacial engineering.

In a comment published in the journal Nature on March 15, 2018 Moore and Rupert Gladstone of the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland with colleagues from CSC – the Finnish IT Center for Science and Princeton University, USA, argued that applying targeted geo-engineering to preserve the ice sheets was a topic worthy of serious research and investment in Antarctic infrastructure.

The glaciers could be slowed in 3 ways: warm ocean waters could be prevented from reaching their bases and accelerating melting; the ice shelves where they start to float could be buttressed by building artificial islands in the sea; and the glacier beds could be dried by draining or freezing the thin film of water they slide on.

Artificial islands have been built in other places such as Hong Kong airport; water is drained into rock tunnels beneath a glacier in Norway to feed a hydropower plant; raising a berm in front of the fastest flowing glacier in Greenland would need a wall only 3 mi. (5 km) across and 330 ft. (100 m.) high.

Wolovick’s less radical solution would involve the building of sills or walls made up of huge piles of loose aggregate, stretching for mi. across the sea floor. These would keep warm water at depth from reaching the glacier. With less warm water to paw at their grounding line, glacial retreat would stop, and often they actually gain mass.

If they work as planned, these large walls could make glaciers last as much as 10 times longer than they otherwise would. In rudimentary simulations, the walls make a glacier that would collapse in 100 years last for another millennium.

Wolovick presented his work in December 2018 at the annual Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, DC where more than 24,000 attendees from 113 countries, where leaders from academia, government, and the private sector examined and discussed the latest research.

Discover Solution 170: Rebuilding glaciers

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