Saving Polar Ice

Proposed Effort to Slow Melting of Glacier in Antarctica

by Thomas Manaugh

Energy Island could be used to provide massive amounts of energy for cooling seawater. Cooling seawater in a key area off the western coast of Antarctica could slow the melting of glacial ice.

One effect of global warming is rapid melting of glaciers around the world. Melting of glacial ice sheets at the South Pole is of greatest concern because the ice that covers the Antarctica continent constitutes most of the glacial ice in the world. Melting of ice on the continent of Antarctica would raise sea levels by a calculated 234 feet, flooding coastal areas and huge areas of low-lying lands around the world. (Calculation is based on numbers from NASA, referenced and quoted below). Most of the world’s major cities would be under water.

Ground zero for concerns about Antarctica is now focused on an area in Antarctica’s western part. That area contains Pine Island Glacier, a massive continental glacier that is slowly flowing into the Pine Island Bay on Antarctica’s western coast. Undercut by warming seawaters, the glacier has been recently found to be melting many times faster than earlier estimated. (See annotated references here.)

Could water off the western coast of Antarctica be cooled in a way that would slow melting of glacial ice in Antarctica? If so, could such cooling give us a longer time to cope with and reduce global warming before catastrophic rises in sea levels would be otherwise predicted to occur?

It is proposed here that wind, wave, water currents, and solar energy could be used to power an effort to cool seawaters off the coast of a carefully targeted area of western Antarctica. Cooling of waters in parts of Pine Island Bay could serve to slow the melting of glacial ice that is flowing into the bay. In essence, the rapid melting of glacial ice would be slowed, the movement of the glacier into Pine Island Bay would be slowed, and many years (perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years) would be granted to reduce global warming before catastrophic sea levels would otherwise inundate coastal areas around the world. Economic savings from slowing and eventually halting rising seas would be monumental.

How hard would it be for an Energy Island to cool seawater that bathes the underside of glaciers that flow into Pine Island Bay? Actually, the process is very simple — even less complicated than the task performed by your refrigerator if it automatically makes ice.

The refrigerator controls a flow of water into the ice-making mechanism, cools the water by refrigeration, and discharges the resulting ice.

Similarly, Energy Island only would need to let fresh seawater flow for cooling into a refrigeration space — a space located within in the island’s structure. The seawater would be super-cooled to a temperature below 0 degrees Celsius (but not to a point of freezing). It would then be discharged from the bottom of the cooling space, and fresh water would be allowed into the top of the cooling space to continue the process.

If inlet and discharge processes were properly configured, it would be possible for the cooling process to operate continuously.

The discharged cooled seawater, now denser and heavier than the water around it, would sink toward the ocean floor. The space between the glacier and the ocean floor is where the greatest glacier melting occurs. The super-cooled seawater would infiltrate that critical area and act to slow the melting process.

Heat extracted from the seawater would be dissipated from refrigeration condenser coils into the air. That cooling process could be enhanced by also using water to cool the coils. The result — warmed air that contains water vapor — would quickly cool in the frigid atmosphere of Antarctica, adding to snowfall.

Fresh snow adds to glaciers and helps protect glaciers from melting because snow is efficient at reflecting sunlight. Fresh snow fall would counteract the effect of darkening of the surface of Antarctica – a troubling positive feedback effect where snow melt leads to darkening and thereafter to yet faster melting.

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