Normally, heat waves strike the Arctic about once a decade. But earlier this week, another hot spell hit the region, marking an unprecedented third time in a year this has happened, all in the first two months of 2017. And an American scientist has come up with a potential way to deal with the continuing problem of Arctic ice melt, which is driven by these unusual heat waves.
On Saturday, the Christian Science Monitor reported on the most recent heat wave in the Arctic, which had driven temperatures near the North Pole to 50 degrees Fahrenheit higher than historical averages. Putting things in context, the Monitor compared this phenomenon to New York City having temperatures in the mid-80s in the month of January. And that has scientists scratching their heads, unsure of how to deal with the troubling temperature spikes in the Arctic.
The ice melt problem appears to be one of the reasons behind this year’s Arctic heat waves. With sea ice disappearing, that brings reservoirs of heat from the North Atlantic Ocean closer to the pole, and that leads to a “vicious cycle” of sorts, with the continued trend of climate change serving as a backdrop to it all.
“It’s a bit of a chicken-egg thing: we have less ice because it’s warm, but it’s really warm, so we have less ice,” said Snow and Ice Data Center research scientist Mark Serreze.
University of Toronto atmospheric physics expert Kent Moore told the Washington Post that such Arctic heat waves might continue to be commonplace, as climate change continues to affect polar temperatures.
“There’s more and more evidence that the Arctic, especially, is warming quite dramatically and that we should expect to see more of these events. I think it’s just more evidence that the climate is, in fact, changing.”
Keeping these problems in mind, Arizona State University physicist Steven Desch has devised a rather peculiar and unorthodox solution to Arctic ice melt. Together with his colleagues from the same institution, Desch wants to build ten million wind-powered pumps, setting them up on the region’s ice cap. According to The Guardian, the pumps will be activated in the winter months, delivering water to the surface, where it should ideally freeze and thicken the Arctic ice cap.
Desch believes that his idea could result in an additional three feet of sea ice added to the Arctic cap. At the moment, the ice cap doesn’t often go beyond six to ten feet regarding thickness, and climate change is making it harder and harder for the Arctic ice layer to thicken.
“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly.”
So far, all Desch and his Arizona State University colleagues have is a paper describing the proposal, and an estimated price tag for the water pump initiative, which could fetch a value of about $500 billion. The Guardian writes that the ASU paper was recently published in the American Geophysical Union’s official journal, Earth’s Future.
Desch acknowledged that the potential cost of his team’s project is quite a staggering one. But it once again brings to fore concerns that climate change has become even more of a problem than it was in the past. He believes that the historic Paris agreement of 2015 isn’t enough to curb global warming, and it may take much more than just the water pumps to prevent Arctic ice melt from completely eroding the region’s ice by 2030.
“Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels. It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”
Despite those challenges, Desch told The Guardian that he believes his project will work, and may help curb Arctic ice melt while educating people on “alternative options” to fossil fuels.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Image]