WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
A crazy plan to re-freeze the arctic isn’t as crazy as it sounds, and now Swiss scientists are trying it out to regrow their glaciers.
Earlier in the year a team of scientists announced their outlandish plans to re-freeze the Arctic by installing no less than 10 million wind powered snow pumps across the ice cap to replenish the dwindling sea ice.
The idea was so wild, and so expensive, coming in at around $400 Billion that no one actually thought it would go anywhere, but now researchers in Switzerland have just launched a trial that will see if they can sustain an entire glacier through the summer months using nothing more than snow machines.
If the team manages to successfully preserve a small, artificial glacier at the foot of the Diavolezzafirn glacier in the south eastern part of Switzerland through the year’s hottest months, it’s hoped that they can apply the same technique to the country’s giant Morteratsch glacier.
One of the largest glaciers in the eastern alps, this vast valley glacier has been retreating fast thanks to rising global temperatures and it’s currently retreating at a rate of 30 to 40 metres every year.
As a consequence, it could be that the only hope for Switzerland’s giant is to use thousands of snow machines to blast it with artificial snow – and if all this sounds too far out there then scientists have actually done the maths and it turns out that it’s technically feasible to use snow machines to rebuild glaciers – and replenish vanishing sea ice.
While we’d need at least 10 million snow blowers to re-freeze the Arctic though it’s reckoned that we’d only need about 4,000 to help the Morteratsch glacier not only stop retreating, but actually grow in the coming decades.
The basic idea is that the ice on the glacier is now being exposed to sunlight, but if the team, led by Jaad Oerlemans can cover the ice in thick, artificial snow, it could reflect the light before it gets a chance to melt the layers of ice below.
Oerlemans presented his plan at the recent annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria.
“Looking at previous work showing that natural snow can help glaciers grow, we’ve concluded that the glacier could regain up to 800 metres of length within 20 years if it had a covering,” he said, “we’ve worked out that just a few centimetres of artificial snow blown onto a 0.5 square-kilometre plateau high up the glacier each summer could be enough to protect the ice beneath.”
Of course, the plan isn’t as colossal as the Arctic one, but it’s still huge, and would require a lot of funding, but Oerlemans and his team are quietly confident.
For the past decade, the Diavolezzafirn glacier has been having artificial snow added to it over the winter months to improve the ski season and locals in the area have seen as this extra snow help the small glacier grow by up to 8 metres in the past 10 years. It’s this scheme that’s now going to be extended after the team managed to secure $100,000 in funding for it, and if the trial’s successful then who knows the Arctic could be next… and at a time when scientists have gone on record to say the Arctic is “unravelling” if it’s not a Plan A then maybe it could be a Plan B.