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Even if the world immediately stopped greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change and warming waters beneath the sea ice, it would do nothing to thicken and re-stabilize the critical Thwaites Buttress, says John Moore, 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 caps,” he says.
This will require what is variously described as active conservation, radical adaptation, or glacier geoengineering.
Moore and others offered potential ways people could step in to preserve key glaciers. Some of these projects involve the construction of artificial orthopedic devices as part of polar megaprojects or the installation of other structures that would encourage nature to restore existing ones. The basic idea is that a handful of engineering efforts at the source of the problem could significantly reduce the property damage and flood risk that virtually all coastal cities and low-lying island nations will face, as well as the costs of adaptation projects necessary to minimize them.
If it works, it could potentially preserve crucial ice sheets for a few more centuries, buying time to reduce emissions and stabilize the climate, the researchers say.
But there would be enormous logistical, technical, legal and financial challenges. And it’s not yet known how effective the interventions would be, or if they could be done before some of the larger glaciers are lost.
Redirect warming waters
In articles and papers published in 2018, Moore, Princeton’s Michael Wolovick and others laid out the possibility of preserving critical glaciers, including the Thwaites, through massive earthworks projects. These would involve shipping or dredging large amounts of material to build berms or artificial islands around or under key glaciers. The structures would support glaciers and ice shelves, block the hot, dense layers of water at the bottom of the ocean that melt them from below, or both.
More recently, they and researchers affiliates of the University of British Columbia explored a more technical concept: building what they called “curtains anchored to the seabed.” These would be floating flexible sheets, made from a geotextile material, that could retain and redirect hot water.
The hope is that this proposal would be cheaper than previous ones, and that these curtains would withstand iceberg collisions and could be removed if there were any negative side effects. The researchers modeled the use of these structures around three glaciers in Greenland, as well as the nearby Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers.