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The Radical Intervention That Could Save the Doomsday Glacier


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Even if the world immediately halts greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and warms water under the ice shelf, it would do nothing to thicken and re-stabilize Thwaites’ mainstay, says John Moore, a glaciologist and professor at the Arctic Center. at the University of Lapland in Finland.

“So the only way to prevent collapse … is to physically stabilize the ice sheets,” he says.

This would require what is variously described as active conservation, radical adaptation, or glacier geoengineering.

Moore and others have suggested potential ways in which people could intervene to conserve major glaciers. Some of the schemes include building industrial arches through giant arctic projects, or installing other structures that will push nature to reclaim existing ones. The basic idea is that a handful of engineering efforts at the source of the problem can significantly reduce the property damage and flood risk that essentially every coastal city and low-lying island nation would face, as well as reduce the costs of needed adaptation projects.

If successful, the researchers say, it could potentially preserve important ice sheets for a few more centuries, providing time to cut emissions and stabilize the climate.

But there will be enormous logistical, engineering, legal and financial challenges. It is not yet clear how effective the interventions will be, or whether they can be done before some of the largest glaciers are lost.

Greenhouse water redirection

In articles and papers published in 2018, Moore and Michael Wolovik of Princeton University and others demonstrated the potential to conserve important glaciers, including Thwaites, through massive Earth-moving projects. This may include shipping or dredging large amounts of material to build barriers or artificial islands around or under major glaciers. The structures will support glaciers and ice shelves, block the layers of warm, dense water on the ocean floor that are melting it from below, or both.

Recently, they and researchers affiliated with the University of British Columbia discovered a more technical concept: building what they called “seafloor-mounted canopies.” These will be flexible, buoyant sheets, made of geotextile, which can block and redirect warm water.

The hope is that this proposal will be cheaper than the previous one, and that these blinds will stand up to the collision of icebergs and can be removed if there are negative side effects. The researchers modeled the use of these structures around three glaciers in Greenland, as well as the Thwaites River and adjacent Pine Island glaciers.

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