Scientists in Finland have proposed plans for huge geoengineering projects in Greenland and Antarctica to help prevent major polar glaciers from melting.

The controversial proposals – which would cost billions of dollars – include underwater walls, artificial islands and large pumping stations that would channel cold water into the bases of glaciers to stop them from melting.

John C. Moore and Rupert Gladstone of the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, with colleagues from CSC – the Finnish IT Center for Science, believe investment in preventative polar infrastructure would stall the fastest flows of ice into the oceans, providing a competitive option and buying time to deal with global warming. Alternatively, if seas continue rising at the current rate, flooding of low-lying, densely populated areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, Japan and the Netherlands, would likely require tens of trillions of dollars a year in mitigation and the building of vast, expensive sea-wall defences, they claim.

Finland is a leader in Arctic research, with expertise ranging across several universities and research institutes in many different disciplines, with the major players represented in The Finnish National Committee of Arctic and Antarctic Research. As such, the country hosted both the Arctic Energy Summit and Arctic Spirit Conference in 2017, with the Arctic Biodiversity Conference coming up in 2018. The University of Lapland’s Arctic Centre is a leading expert on sustainable development and global change in the Arctic. Finland is also involved in three Nordic Centres of Excellence within the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI) sub-programme “Interaction between Climate Change and the Cryosphere” (ICCC): NCoE SVALI “Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice”, NCoE DEFROST and NCoE CRAICC, providing a strong record on Arctic and climate change research.

“Just a few very fast flowing glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica drain much of the ice sheets, and will be the route for ice that will raise sea levels. These glaciers are tens of kilometres across, and so attractive targets to stabilize rather than building walls around the world’s coastline,” explains Moore, Research Professor at University of Lapland and Chief Scientist in Beijing Normal University, China.

The glaciers could be slowed in three 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. “Advanced ice/ocean computer modelling helps to evaluate the effectiveness of these ideas,” says Thomas Zwinger, Application Scientist at CSC.

Construction of such projects would cause considerable disruption, potentially affecting ecology, fisheries and tourism. However, the team insists that such projects should be carefully assessed now as the likely costs appear to be compatible with those of other large energy and civil engineering works being planned across the globe.

“Potential risks, especially to local ecosystems, need careful field work and computer modelling, the glaciers need their beds and melt rates mapping and improvements in climate model simulations of the Southern Ocean and the North Atlantic’s flow onto the Greenland shelf are required. In our view, however, the greatest risk is doing nothing — or if the interventions don’t work. The impacts of construction would be dwarfed locally by the effects of the ice sheet’s collapse, and globally by rapid sea-level rise.”

 

(via University of Lapland, The Guardian)