Can We Stop Glacier Melting By Building  Walls?

Can We Stop Glacier Melting By Building Walls?

In one of our articles, we have talked about how icebergs in both our poles are melting much faster than predicted. The reason is because warm water from beneath is dissolving the ice formation underwater which ten result in glacier melting.

And this happens in alarming rate, even experts predict that it affects the melting of icebergs bigger than how warming temperature in our atmosphere does. Underwater dissolvement is predicted to has caused icebergs in south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometers for the last 6 years.

“What’s happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can’t see it, because it’s happening below the sea surface. The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland,” Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the researchers contributing to the research, said.

Of course, this is not a thing to ignore, and researchers are trying to find a way to solve this glacier melting problem. Newest research published in Cryosphere journal,from the European Geosciences Union, might have the answer for this: build a wall.

The Wall

glacier melting

What scientists suggested is not just an ordinary wall, but it would be the biggest wall in the world. Another special thing about the wall is that it will not stand tall up above the ground, but will lay long on the ocean floor.

But why bother building a wall under the sea? This is where it starts to get interesting. As mentioned before, warm water underneath is grinding icebergs in south pole from the bottom, which results in glacier melting.

By building a very long wall underneath the ocean, experts expect that it would be able to stop the warm water flow from getting to the icebergs. It seems radical but on the other side it makes so much sense.

Not only keeping warm water to get into the icebergs, the wall is supposed to hold melting glaciers too. It will give the icebergs a bigger chance to recover from the melt rather than letting the melting glaciers blends with ocean water that have no boundary.

After trapping warm water outside the bottom of icebergs, the only thing we should worry about is the warming temperature above. Although the warming up of ocean water is hugely affected by the warming temperature, but solving one problem after another is the most effective way to finish all the tasks.

The Probability

glacier formation

This seemingly radical idea is the result of a study conducted by Michael Wolovick, a researcher at Princeton University, and John Moore, from University of Lapland in Finland. Wolovick is a researcher at department of geosciences, while Moore is a professor of climate change.

They ran computer models of Thwaites glacier in Antarctica, which is one of the widest glaciers in the world at 80-100 kilometers wide, being dissolved by warm ocean water underneath. In the computer modeling, they then applied a model of 300 meters high underwater artificial barrier.

“We are imagining very simple structures, simply piles of gravel or sand on the ocean floor,” said Wolovick. The structure used in the model is pretty simple, as Wolovick described it “within the order of magnitude of plausible human achievements”.

From that modeling, they found out that the wall would have 30% probability to prevent runway collapse and glacier melting of west Antarctic ice sheet. While when they tried to ‘build’ more advanced model of underwater wall, its probability to block half of warm water from reaching ice shelf is 70%.

Although the result was not 100%, but by finding that by only using simple piles of gravel or sand to prevent further underwater iceberg melting is great to hear. Glacier melting is responsible for rising ocean surface which may become one of the end of the world’s scenarios.

We’ve Done It

condition in south pole

Although it seems new, but building walls of sand and gravel under the sea is not a new thing. We have tried to do such thing before, but for another purposes. The examples are Palm Jumeirah in Dubai and Hong Kong International Airport.

And the amount of materials used to build such underwater structure is pretty much make sense. Four isolated walls will require about 0.1 and 1.5 cubic kilometers of materials. “That is comparable to the 0.1 km3 that was used to create Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. The 0.3 km3 that was used to create Hong Kong International Airport,” the authors said.

As a note, the building of Palm Jumeirah spent about $12 billion, and Hong Kong International Airport spent about $20 billion. But rather than spending money to please humans, by building the wall we are saving them.

The calculations proved that this project is pretty much doable. However, researchers said that we are not rushing in building the wall. Not because we are safe enough from the threats, but because the experts are trying to find out further development of wall with higher probability of success.

However, the findings of the study proved that we can do some tricks to prevent human extinction. In this case, by drowning on our own land because the sea level rises too high, caused by uncontrollable glacier melting.

Generations Later

canada glacier (NASA)

To tackle the impact of global warming in general, most of us concentrate on reducing fossil fuel emission. But as Wolovick mentioned before, it would be a short term priority to reduce the rate of glacier melting.

We also need to plan longer term contingency plans to prevent ice sheets collapse in the future. While the wall might last for many generations, and the idea of its existence can last much longer in human minds.

“We think that geoengineering of glaciers, could delay much of Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global warming,” Moore wrote earlier in 2018.

Peter Irvine, researcher at Harvard University is one of the most vocal supporter of the idea. “I think this is an interesting scientific idea but it needs to be looked at by some marine and Antarctic engineers to work out if it is remotely feasible, even for much smaller glaciers,” he said.

Irvine said that with today technology, achieving the 100% functioning wall might be impossible, but the existence of the idea itself is the prove that we can finally prevent disasters using geoengineering. “The most effective Antarctic sills the authors propose dwarf the greatest earthworks ever conducted and they were built in much more convenient locations,” Irvine said.


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