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Brains On Ice

Brains On Ice

How space hoses and glacier snuggies could keep the Earth cool
By Elaine Anselmi
Jan 07
2019
From the December 2018 Issue

When it comes to fighting global warming, scientists are feeling the heat. From giant glacier sweaters to hoses hanging out in the stratosphere, here are a few of the mammoth engineering schemes they’ve drawn up to try to keep us cold.

The winds of ice

Towering wind turbines mounted on sea ice will save the
polar ice cap. Or so say researchers at the University of Arizona. They propose installing wind-powered pumps across the Arctic’s thinning ice that will bring water to the surface to quickly freeze in the sub-zero air. They hope this will thicken ice sheets in the winter and give them a better shot at staying frozen through the longer and warmer summers.

Put some snow on it

How do you keep a glacier from baking in the sun? No, Utrecht University researcher Hans Oerlemens and his team aren’t smothering a small glacier at the base of Diavolezzafirn (a mountain in southeast Switzerland) in sunscreen. But blowing artificial snow over it might be the next best thing. The idea is that adding a layer of snow during the summer months will veil the melting glacier in white and reflect more sunlight away from it. If this idea works, the scientists will move on to the country’s largest glacier, Morterasch.

Head in the clouds

Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates wants to blast seawater at low-sitting clouds to whiten them so they reflect more light away from the Earth. Similarly, scientists from the University of Edinburgh are talking about building platforms on the Arctic Ocean with tall towers that will pump and spray seawater into the air, forming new clouds to reflect sunlight away from the warming ocean.

Space hoses

A 20-kilometre-long hose dangles in the sky from a 200-metre-wide helium balloon. From the ground, hundreds of tonnes of chemical particles are pumped through the hose and into the stratosphere to bounce sunrays away from the earth. This project has been repeatedly delayed, but the British scientists behind the idea aren’t done tinkering with their hoses just yet.

Glacier snuggies

For a good decade, Swiss scientists have been shrouding their shrinking glaciers in fleece blankets to coddle them during the sunny, summery months. Why coddle a glacier? Well, this pampering, conceived by Utrecht University scientists, is an attempt to prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the ice. And so far, it has
successfully slowed glacial melt.