Planet Care

170: Glacier restoration by snow and ice making machines


World-wide glacier retreat is one of the most obvious and impressive manifestations of global warming. On a regional scale, glaciers’ fluctuations may affect landscape, meltwater supply (reservoirs, irrigation), security of infrastructure and buildings (ice avalanches, outbursts of glacial lakes), and the tourist industry (ski areas, attractiveness of alpine scenery). Arctic sea ice extent has decreased drastically. It is likely that the late‐summer Arctic will be ice‐free as soon as the 2030s.


Glacier restoration

In the Himalayas, the Ice Stupa artificial glacier project involves piping water 190 ft (60 m.) upstream which then easily rises close to 180 ft (60 m) up from the ground when it reaches the village. It is then made to fall from that height in cold Ladakhi winter nights when it is -30 to -50°C outside (with wind chill factor). The water then freezes by the time it reaches the ground and slowly forms a huge cone or Ice Stupa roughly 100 to 160 ft ( 30 to 50m) high.

The idea is also to conserve this tower of ice as long into the summer as possible so that as it melts, it feeds the fields until the real glacial melt waters start flowing in June. Since these ice cones extend vertically upwards towards the sun, they receive fewer of the sun’s rays per the volume of water stored; hence, they will take much longer to melt compared to an artificial glacier of the same volume formed horizontally on a flat surface

In the Swiss Alps, led by Johannes Oerlemans, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, a study based on a 20-year weather data shows that the Morteratsch Glacier can reglaciate and advance again using artificial summer snow produced just by its gravity.

A cable car would carry 4,000 snow machines from Graubunden to compensate for the poor precipitation over the past winters by spraying a 16 ft (5 m) thick artificial snow cover on a climate-sensitive region of the glacier. Covering retreating glaciers in blanket of snow could protect them from sunlight enabling them to grow by 2,600 ft (800 m) within 20 years.

The melting of the giant West Antarctic Ice Sheet is at a tipping point. One idea to save it from complete collapse, might be to blow 7.4 trillion tons (6.7 trillion tonnes) of artificial snow on top of it. The collapse of this Sheet is predicted to lead to sea level rises of around three nearly 10 ft (3 m) worldwide.

In a report called “Arctic Ice Management”, Steven J. Desch and researchers at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, wind-powered pumps would refreeze parts of the Arctic ice sheet.

This would ensure that “first-year ice” would have a better chance of surviving the summer. By placing machines that would use wind power to operate pumps, they estimate that water could be brought to the surface over the course of an Arctic winter, when it would have the best chance of freezing.

Based on calculations of wind speed in the Arctic, they calculate that a wind turbine with 20 ft (6 m) diameter blades would generate sufficient electricity so that a single pump could raise water to a height of 23 ft (7 m) and at a rate of 29.76 tons (27 tonnes) per hour.

The net effect of this would be thicker sheets of ice in the entire affected area, which would have a better chance of surviving the summer. To keep the ice sheet protected, at least 7.4 trillion tons (6.7 trillion tonnes) of snow, blasted over the course of 10 years would require 12,000 wind turbines.

Then there’s the ‘small’ matter of providing enough equipment and enough power for the job in one of the harshest environments on our planet.

Over time, the negative feedback created by more ice would cause less sunlight to be absorbed by the Arctic Ocean, thus leading to more cooling and more ice accumulation. This, they claim, could be done on a relatively modest budget of US$500 billion per year for the entire Arctic, or US$50 billion per year for 10% of the Arctic.

In 2017, a prototype of this system planned in Switzerland. Instead of entire ice caps, the target would be a small, artificial glacier at the foot of the Diavolezzafirn glacier. While the Arctic plan proposed the use of wind-powered pumps to spew water on top of ice, this mini-version of the project would use snow machines to preserve the glacier over the summer by covering it with artificially created snow. (

Another solution would be to make new icebergs. Faris Rajak Kotahatuhaha, who studied at Islamic University of Indonesia and is now a practising architect in Jakarta has envisaged a fleet of ice-making submarines.

Kotahatuhaha worked on the prototype with collaborators Denny Lesmana Budi and Fiera Alifa for an international competition organised by the Association of Siamese Architects. The team was awarded second prize in the contest.

The submarine-like vessel would submerge to collect sea water in a central hexagonal tank. Turbines would then be used to blast the tank with cold air and accelerate the freezing process so creating 80 ft (25 m) wide hexagonal blocks of ice with a volume of 71,578 cubic ft (2,027 m³) that would then nest together to form new ice fields.

During this process, the vessel would return to the surface of the sea and the tank would be covered to protect it from sunlight. A system of reverse osmosis would be used to filter some of the salt from the water in order to speed up the process.

Discover Solution 171: Lighter glass bottles

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