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To stop the Arctic meltdown, Ice911 suggests sprinkling tiny glass beads

The Arctic is melting at unprecedented speed: Greenland's ice disappears six times faster than four decades ago. In August, the ice sheet lost 60 billion tonnes in just five days after thawing in the summer.

Over the past four decades, we have lost 75% of the Arctic ice volume. The current extent of sea ice is the second lowest since scientists started tracking in 1979.

In addition to sea level rise, this melting contributes significantly to climate change, as the Arctic ice reflects sunlight into space (partly due to it) sea ice is bright and white). Less ice means less heat leaving the planet, which in turn causes more ice to melt. It is a doom-loop.

A non-profit organization called Ice91

1 offers a possible solution to this ominous feedback loop: the group has proposed covering important parts of the Arctic in millions of hollow glass microspheres to form a protective layer that reflects sunlight and isolates the melting ice.

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

Tiny silica beads at work

The tiny balls that Ice911 developed are more like grains of sand than pearls. They are made of silicic acid, a compound of silicon and oxygen, because the material is abundant in nature and harmless to humans and animals.


The microballs of Ice911, which resemble a floating white sand, consist of a silicate glass that consists mainly of silicon dioxide.
Courtesy of Susan Kramer / Ice 911

Field described the microbeads as a "small, fine, white beach sand" floating. In a sense, the material is much like snow.

The reflective beads adhere to ice and water upon contact, and their chemical composition ensures that they do not attract oil-based pollutants. According to Ice911 simulations, the use of ice-reflecting technology could help lower temperatures in most of the northern Arctic by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So far, however, the technology is still in the field test phase. Field said Ice911 started with "a very small experiment in buckets" on the deck of their own home and then performed small tests on a lake in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and at a pond in Minnesota.

For the past two years, Field and her colleagues have taken the microspheres to the Arctic to distribute the material across a frozen lake near Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska. The results, some of which were reported in a May 2018 study, suggest that the silica beads actually increased the reflectivity and thickness of the ice.

 Ice911 Meadow

Ice911 beads are being tested in a small area of ​​North Meadow Lake at the Barrow Environmental Observatory in Alaska.
Courtesy of Susan Kramer / Ice 911

However, Field does not want to cover all 1.6 million square miles of Arctic sea ice with pearls. Instead, her team uses climate models to locate strategic parts of the Arctic where the microspheres could have maximum effect.

One of these areas is the Fram Strait between Greenland and Spitsbergen – a melting hotspot. This region is heating up almost four times faster than the global average.

"Here ice floes die down, and the cemetery fills up faster every year," said climate physicist Till Wagner earlier this year to The Guardian.

Field believes the Ice911 technology could be deployed in three years to curb this plague. But she estimates that it would cost about $ 5 billion to disperse the microspheres on a reasonable scale.

"If you look at these costs, it's big," she said. "But the cost of doing nothing is much higher."

At the moment, Ice911 will need to run more tests and obtain regulatory approvals from governments and environmental organizations before a large-scale deployment can be considered.

Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice

Every year in September, Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent. Since the 1980s, this minimum has dropped by about 13% per decade, and the decline is accelerating, as the following NASA animation shows.

In 1979, Arctic sea ice spanned about 7 million square kilometers. By the last month, the expansion had dropped to 1.7 million square miles (4.3 million square kilometers). According to NASA, this year saw the second-lowest sea ice extent ever recorded in 2007. The worst year was 2012, when the ice shrank to less than 1 million square miles (2.6 million square kilometers).

European Space Agency researchers have warned that the current carbon emission rate means we could see an ice-free Arctic in just decades.

Field describes polar ice as the "heat shield" of the earth. The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic raises the heaviest charge of reflective sunlight, but that's the quickest thaw. About 95% of this bright, perennial sea ice disappeared in 2018.

That's the ice that wants to save Ice911.

Field says her invention is a climate solution, not geo-technology

 Greenland iceberg

Behind a Innaarsuit settlement in Greenland on July 12, 2018, a huge iceberg can be seen.
Ritzau Scanpix / Karl Petersen / about REUTERS

Field, which has 55 patents, said it first called the reflectivity of ice the "lever" it wanted to pull in 2006 after seeing Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." The film explains that the loss of Arctic reflectivity contributed one-fifth of the global temperature increase.

Since this documentation, researchers' warnings about the consequences of climate change have become much worse. This has led some scientists and politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, to consider geo-engineering technologies that could significantly affect our climate.

Geo-engineering strategies range from the development of facilities that suck carbon dioxide at the safer end of the spectrum from the air to intentionally inject reflective chemicals into the atmosphere to direct more sunlight to the more extreme side back into space.

Read More: We are changing the climate so much that we will soon face apocalyptic consequences. Here are eleven final ways we could hack the planet to reverse this trend.

Field and her team described Ice911's technology as "localized, reversible geoengineering" in their 2018 article, but she emphasized that these are "pearls", unlike what is referred to as geoengineering in the first place . "

Instead, Ice911's microspheres are struggling to "rebuild something that has been around until recently and does not put the climate on a new path." 19659002]


Vangelis Christoduoluo, an Ice911 volunteer, stands next to a remote surveillance buoy collecting data on the effectiveness of the pearls.
Courtesy of Susan Kramer / Ice 911

Given the fact that the beads are made of a material that is "almost omnipresent in the environment," Field sees "a reasonable distinction" between their organization's approach and the attempt to inject chemicals such as atmosphere ,

An article in Nature in 2018 pointed out that geoengineering on Arctic and Antarctic glaciers could give us crucial time to tackle climate change. However, Field quickly realized that the work of Ice911 should not be seen as an adequate solution in itself.

"I do not want this to be an excuse for coal mines, I do not want people to say, 'We do not have to change anything because the engineers are going to fix it,' she said.

With the polar melt on track to raise the sea by three feet by 2100 and expel hundreds of millions of people, Field added, "The need for Ice911 technology is now urgent and verifiable."

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