Refreeze the Arctic? We could, scientist says, but another wonders if we should

A polar bear waits for the Hudson Bay to freeze-over, outside Churchill, Mantioba in Canada.
A polar bear waits for the Hudson Bay to freeze-over, outside Churchill, Mantioba in Canada. PHOTO: AFP

PHOENIX, Arizona -It is possible to refreeze the rapidly shrinking Arctic, says a physics professor at Arizona State University.

The real question is whether such an expensive effort would be more costly to the earth more than helpful, says another professor at Harvard University.

Physicist Steven Desch says the Arctic's shrinking sea ice could be replenished by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the ce cap that would pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze and thicken the cap, the Observer reports.

In a paper just published in Earth's Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, the paper said he and his team have put the project's price tag at US $500 billion ($710 billion).

"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," Desch told the British newspaper.

The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the current layer thinning 2 to 3 metre layer that is constantly being eroded by climate change.

"The situation is causing grave concern," the Observer reported Professor Julienne Stroeve, of University College London, saying. "It is now much more dire than even our worst case scenarios originally suggested.'

Scientists say the earth is now heating up twice as fast as predicted just a few years ago. At that rate the Arctic's sea ice could disappear completely by the summer of 2030.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), in Boulder, Colorado, said last week that the Arctic's sea ice covering of 13.38 million sq km last month, was the lowest of any January in the 38 years since satellites began surveying the region. That is a drop from 260,000 sq km in January last year - which was then the lowest extent for that month - and a stunning 1.26 million sq km below the long-term average for January.

The Observer noted that the loss of the ice cap could spell the loss of Arctic species from polar bears to cod. At the same time, it would ignite further warming of the planet by removing ice that reflects solar radiation back into space and poison the atmosphere further by releasing more carbon gases into it.

"The situation is causing grave concern," the Observer reported Professor Julienne Stroeve, of University College London as saying. "It is now much more dire than even our worst case scenarios originally suggested.

"Juvenile Arctic cod like to hang out under the sea ice. Polar bears hunt on sea ice, and seals give birth on it," she said. "We have no idea what will happen when that lot disappears. In addition, there is the problem of increasing numbers of warm spells during which rain falls instead of snow. That rain then freezes on the ground and forms a hard coating that prevents reindeer and caribou from finding food under the snow."

"Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels," Desch told the Observer that attempting to curb the burning of fossil fuels as in the Paris Climate agreements is too little too late.

"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," he said.

Proposals to replenish the Arctic ice have been around for several years. David Keith, professor of applied physics at Harvard proposed it in two papers in Nature Climate Change and Environmental Research Letters.

But that prompted the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to rule out such open-air and large-scale geoengineering, the Daily Mail reported, as it could have unintended effects that could be disastrous.