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To stop Arctic ice melting, Ice911 offers scattering of small, glass beads



The Arctic melts at an unprecedented rate: Greenland's ice disappears six times faster than four decades ago. In August, the ice sheet lost 60 billion tonnes in just 5 days of summer thawing.

In the last four decades, we have lost 75% of the volume of Arctic ice. Current extent of sea ice is the second lowest since scientists began monitoring in 1979.

In addition to rising sea levels, this melting contributes significantly to climate change as Arctic ice reflects sunlight in space. (partly because sea ice is light and white). So less ice means less heat leaving the planet, which in turn causes more ice to melt. This is a vicious cycle.

A nonprofit called Ice91

1 offers a potential solution to this sinister feedback chain: The group proposes to close key Arctic parts in millions of hollow, glass microspheres to form a protective layer that reflects sunlight and insulates melting.

"We are a terribly creative species and we need to slow down the clock on climate change," Leslie Field, founder of Ice911, told Business Insider. "Technology like this gives us time to act."

Small silicone balls at work

Small Ice911 spheres have evolved more like sand grains than beads. They are made from silica, a compound made of silicon and oxygen, since the material is abundant in the natural world and harmless to humans and animals.

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Ice911's microspheres, which are somewhat like floating white sand, are made of silicate glass, which is predominantly silica.
[WiththekindassistanceofSusanKramer/Ice911


The field describes the microspheres as "small, fine, white beach sand" that floats. In a sense, the material looks a lot like snow. Reflective beads adhere to ice and water when in contact, and their chemical composition ensures that they do not attract oil-based contaminants. The simulations made by Ice911 suggest that using the technology to restore ice reflection could help lower temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius in much of the northern Arctic.

But for now, technology is still in the field of field testing. Field said Ice911 started with a "very small bucket experiment" on the deck of his own home, and then conducted small tests on a lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a pond in Minnesota.

For the past two years, Field and her colleagues have brought microspheres to the Arctic, where they distribute material on a frozen lake near Utkakivik (Barrow), Alaska. The results, some of which were reported in a May 2018 study, suggest that silicon balls have indeed increased the reflection and thickness of the ice.

 Ice911 Glade

Ice911's relics are being tested in a small area of ​​Lake North Glade at the Barrow Environmental Observatory in Alaska.
[WiththekindassistanceofSusanKramer/Ice911


However, the field does not want to cover all 1.6 million square miles of Arctic ice with beads.

Instead, her team uses climate models to identify strategic parts of the Arctic where microspheres could have maximum impact.

According to her, the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard is a hotspot. This region is warming nearly four times faster than the world average.

"Ice cries die here and cemeteries fill up faster each year," climate physicist Till Wagner told The Guardian earlier this year.

Field believes that after three years, the technology of Ice911 could be introduced to curb this crisis. But it estimates it would cost about $ 5 billion to disperse the microspheres on a meaningful scale.

"When you look at that price, it's big," she said. "But the cost of nothing is much higher."

For the time being, according to her, Ice911 still has to run more tests and get the right permissions from governments and environmental groups before considering any large-scale deployment.

Shrinkage of Arctic Sea Ice

Every September, sea ice in the Arctic reaches its minimum size. Since the 1980s, this minimum has dropped by about 13% per decade, and the decline has accelerated, as shown by the NASA animation below.

In 1979, glacial sea ice covered approximately 2.7 million square miles (7 million square kilometers). As of last month, the size had dropped to 1.7 million square miles (4.3 million square kilometers). According to NASA, this year tied 2007 for the second-lowest sea ice record. The worst year was 2012, when ice contracted less than 1 million square miles (2.6 million square kilometers).

Researchers from the European Space Agency have warned that the current rate of carbon emissions means that we can only see Arctic ice for decades.

A field describes polar ice as a "heat shield" on Earth. The oldest, thickest sea ice in the Arctic lifts the heaviest load in the reflection of sunlight, but it thaws the fastest. About 95% of this bright, perennial sea ice disappeared in 2018.

This is the ice that Ice911 wants to save. Field says her invention is a climate solution, not geoengineering

 Greenland Iceberg

A giant iceberg is observed behind Innaarsuit, Greenland, July 12, 2018.
Ritzau Scanpix / Karl Petersen / via REUTERS


Field, who has 55 patents, said he first described the reflection of ice as the climate "lever" he wanted to pull in 2006 after watching the Al Gore documentary Uncomfortable truth. " The film explains that the loss of reflectivity in the Arctic has contributed to one fifth of the global temperature rise.

Following the release of this documentary, researchers' warnings about the effects of climate change have become much more appalling. This has led some scientists and politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, to look at geoengineering technologies that could essentially hijack our climate.

Geoengineering strategies range from the development of facilities that suck carbon dioxide out of the air at the safer end of the spectrum. , to purposefully inject reflective chemicals into the atmosphere to send more sunlight back into space on the far side.

Read more: We are changing the climate so severely that we will soon face apocalyptic consequences. Here are 11 last ways we could hack the planet to reverse this trend.

Field and her team referred to Ice911 technology as "localized, reversible geoengineering" in their 2018 paper, but emphasized that the beads are "different from what is called basic geoengineering."

Instead, she said, Ice911's microspheres "are working to restore something that has been there until recently, not taking the climate a new path." [19659002]

 IMG_1044

Vangelis Christoduoluo, a volunteer from Ice911, stands next to a remote monitoring buoy that collects data on the performance of beads.
[WiththekindassistanceofSusanKramer/Ice911


Plus, given that the beads are made of material that is "devilishly close to ubiquitous in the environment," Field added, she sees a "reasonable distinction" between the organization's approach and its efforts, for example, to inject chemicals into the atmosphere.

A 2018 article in Nature noted that geoengineering Arctic and Antarctic glaciers can buy us a crucial time in dealing with climate change. But Field quickly noticed that the operation of Ice911 should not be seen as a sufficient solution on its own.

"I don't want this to be an excuse for coal mines, I don't want people to say, 'We don't have to change something because engineers are going to fix it,'" she said.

But given that polar melting is on track to raise the seas 3 feet by 2100 and threaten to displace hundreds of millions of people, Field added, the need for Ice911 technology is now "urgent and demonstrable."


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