March 4, 2024


This story was originally published by the guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate desk cooperation.

Scientists are working on an unusual plan to stop Antarctic glaciers from melting. They want to build a set of giant underwater curtains in front of ice sheets to protect them from weathering by warm ocean water.

Ice in polar regions is now disappearing at a record pace as global warming increases, and urgent action is needed to slow this loss, the international group of scientists has warned.

Their proposed solution is the construction of a 62-mile-long (100 km) curtain that would be moored to the bed of the Amundsen Sea. It would rise about 656 feet (200 meters) from the sea floor and would partially limit the influx of relatively warm water that flows around and undermines the base of Antarctic glaciers on the coast.

The Seabed Curtain Project, if implemented, would be one of the largest geoengineering programs ever undertaken. “It would be a huge project – but then we face a huge problem,” said glaciologist John Moore of Lapland University at the Observer last week.

“The melting of glaciers in Antarctica could cause catastrophic flooding around the planet and lead to hundreds of millions of people losing their homes. It would be incredibly bad for civilization as we know it, so we have to do something.”

An aerial view of a large block of ice on a dark sea with a crack running through it.
A massive crack running across Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier can be seen in this satellite image.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The curtain proposed by Moore – who is working with scientists at the University of Cambridge and other centers in the US – would run along the sea floor opposite the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers. These act as plugs that prevent the giant ice sheets from sliding into the sea behind them.

Scientists warn that the loss of the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers could be enough to raise sea levels around the world by three meters if they melt, a prospect now seen as a real threat as global warming takes a grip on the region and sea causes temperatures to rise.

“Glaciers are affected by warmer air melting their surfaces, but they are also being eroded at their bases by warm seawater,” said Shaun Fitzgerald, director of the Center for Climate Recovery at Cambridge University, one of the partners in the scheme. . And as the oceans warm as the planet warms due to climate change, the more intense the erosion of ice at the base of these glaciers.”

Building a curtain that limits the flow of warm water to the Antarctic coast could slow the erosion of these glaciers and thus reduce the risk of their catastrophic disappearance, the scientists say. They intend to build a series of seabed curtains and are ready to begin research to determine the best materials for their construction.

“We’re not going to do it with a single sheet of fabric, and we’re not looking at a perfect, sealing membrane,” Fitzgerald added.

One idea would be to use air as a barrier to protect glaciers. A pipe – with holes drilled along it – would be laid along the seabed and air would be pumped through it. The curtain of air bubbles that would rise from it might then stop the penetration of warm seawater.

“We don’t know if it will work as we are only at a very early stage in our work,” Fitzgerald added.

“We have to study how salinity affects water flow and perform all kinds of computer simulations and the testing of mathematical models. Then we will be ready for the first physical tests.”

These tests are scheduled to be carried out on the River Cam later this year, when several models will be tested underwater.

“After that, we’ll start working on a larger scale,” Moore added. “We might go to a fjord in Norway to build a prototype, for example.

“It is certainly not going to be something that will be completed in a hurry. It will take many years. On the other hand, we have to start planning now.”






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