Could millions of pumps refreeze the Arctic?

A team of scientists have come up with a new idea to slow global warming – refreeze the Arctic using ten million pumps. During the winter, the wind-powered pumps would bring seawater to the surface adding a layer of ice one meter thick.

“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,” said physicist Steven Desch in a recent interview. He is one of the authors of a new research paper that outlines the plan, in the journal Earth’s Future.

According to the scientists, it is likely that the late-summer Arctic will be ice-free as soon as the 2030s. Normally this ice would reflect sunlight, but without the ice the sunlight will be absorbed by the open ocean.

“It is unlikely that CO2 levels and mean temperatures can be decreased in time to prevent this loss, so restoring sea ice artificially is an imperative,” the authors of the paper write. “Here we investigate a means for enhancing Arctic sea ice production by using wind power during the Arctic winter to pump water to the surface, where it will freeze more rapidly.”

The cost of Arctic ice management

The research team writes that their primary goal is to restore the Arctic sea ice to a state before human-related climate change. They call this work Arctic ice management (AIM). Their paper outlines the costs of covering both ten percent of the Artic with pumps and 100 percent. The difference would be deploying ten million or 100 million pumps over ten years.

The scientists estimate that the project would cost $50 billion per year, or $500 billion per year, depending on the area is covered. According to the authors, $500 billion represents:

  • 0.64 percent of current world gross domestic product (GDP) of $78 trillion
  • 7 percent of the current US GDP of $18.5 trillion
  • 13 percent of the current US federal budget of $3.8 trillion.

“Thus, deploying devices over the entire Arctic is an enterprise comparable in scope to the U.S. automotive industry, or the execution of the Iraq War, which is to say that it is expensive but is economically achievable,” the scientists write. “There is a reasonable expectation that this money, largely spent on manufacturing, would stimulate the economy and encourage economic growth.”

Read the full research paper here: Arctic ice management

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