Spraying trillions of tons of fake snow may sound like something cooked up by a novelist writing about the year 2150, but according to a new study, it could stave off global sea rise and protect coastal cities.
This type of enormous feat of geoengineering would require energy from more than 12,000 wind turbines to provide power for massive seawater pumps and snow cannons, according to the researchers.
However, scientists are not advocating that humanity take up this approach; instead, they note that its "absurdity" shows the dramatic threat facing the world from climate change-related sea level rise.
A range of different studies have found that rising sea levels, impacted by the melting of glaciers and the changing climate, could imperil cities across the world in the latter half of this century and beyond.
Although it's not known if the entire west Antarctic ice sheet will melt, the scientists have speculated that sea levels will rise based on what they were during previous much warmer periods.
“As scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about every potential option to counter the problems ahead,” Professor Anders Levermann, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led the research, told The Guardian. “As unbelievable as [the proposal] might seem, in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort.”
The researchers' work uses computer models to determine how much water would have to be pumped from the ocean to the top of the ice sheet and then sprayed as snow to stabilize it. The study was published in the journal Science Advances.
The gargantuan effort would require 74 trillion tons of water and would have a hefty price tag, as well.
David Vaughan, director of science at the British Antarctic Survey and not part of the research, told the British publication: “Scientists have an important role in testing, and challenging ‘climate fixes’. I think [Levermann and colleagues] tread the tightrope well, examining and challenging this idea without becoming advocates. Indeed, they are careful to point out the severe side effects.”
Skeptics have largely dismissed fears over man’s impact on global warming, saying climate change has been going on since the beginning of time. They also claim the dangers of a warming planet are being wildly exaggerated and question the impact that fossil fuels have had on climate change.