Could Snow Blowers Save Antarctica?

Scientists are considering blowing snow onto Antarctica to save it from melting. In the July 17 issue of Science Advances, climate scientists outlined a plan to save the rapidly diminishing West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

There is evidence of irreversible ice discharge that would potentially lead to disintegration of the WAIS. The main cause? Warming ocean waters. The ice sheet’s collapse stands to raise global sea levels by over three meters and would affect some of the world's most densely populated areas along coastlines from North America to Asia, including the metropolises of New York City, Calcutta, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Researchers are currently analyzing the potential method of stabilizing the ice sheet by pumping desalinated ocean water onto the glaciers and distributing it with snow cannons to create trillions of tons of additional snowfall.

They write, “The practical realization of elevating and distributing the ocean water would mean an unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet. The practical execution of the endeavor is beyond the scope of this study, and it would be a technical challenge in many ways.”

The audacious effort would require tens of thousands of high-end wind turbines to generate electric power. Installing a wind farm and engineering the massive extraction of ocean water would essentially mean sacrificing a unique natural reserve. The risks and costs of such an endeavor must be weighed carefully against its potential benefits.

It would also demand that the Paris Climate Agreement be followed and worldwide carbon emissions reduced quickly. The researchers' simulations showed that stabilizing the ice sheet would require at least 8 trillion tons of artificial snow over 10 years. The team acknowledges that their model fails to account many X-factors, including changes in snowfall levels; ice shelf fracturing due to global warming; the accidental introduction of salt water onto the ice sheet; and the scale of infrastructure needed to build the snow cannons.

However, the scientists conclude that in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort.


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