Scientists Are Creating Artificial Snow To Save Retreating Glaciers

We're going to need a bigger snow machine. ER_09/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 02 May 2017, 15:39

Even with the Paris agreement in place and fully operational across the globe, every single one of its signatories has to abide strictly by the rules in order for it to meet its minimum requirements. Although we’re optimistic thanks to the proliferation of clean energy and the decline of coal and oil, it’s understandable that some researchers are coming up with their own novel solutions to climate change.

Take this particular team of researchers in Switzerland, for example. The snow cover on the Alps is shrinking, and fast, and its glaciers are but a shadow of their former selves. Speaking at the annual gathering of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna this April, Johannes Oerlemans – a climatologist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands – explained how he hopes to return to the halcyon days.

Snow is white, and as such, it reflects a lot of sunlight. Glaciers with snow coatings stay frozen for longer as a result – this is basic physics.

Oerlemans suggests using snow machines to continuously cover the ailing Morteratsch Glacier in order to save it. In theory, this would definitely work, and this chunk of shrinking ice certainly needs it – losing up to 40 meters (131 feet) from its breadth every single year, this one is particularly vulnerable to man-made climate change.

Its salvation would require 4,000 snow machines, which will create snow by using the glacier’s own meltwater. It’s a rather elegant solution, and one that is currently being trialed by a team led by Oerlemans and several locals in a smaller-scale pilot scheme. Snow will be blanketed on an artificial glacier, with the objective being to keep it “alive” throughout the warm summer months.

Morteratsch Glacier.Gunter Seggebaing/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Looking at battle lines being drawn between scientists and climate change deniers, Congress and the President, and – let’s face it – Democrats and Republicans – some rather crazy-sounding geoengineering schemes have been suggested to save the planet from a global warming meltdown.

One of the most ostentatious comes courtesy of Arizona State University, who proposed this February to use $500-billion-worth of wind-powered pumps to force cool waters to the surface of the rapidly disintegrating Arctic Sea Ice, allowing it to refreeze – thus, solving the problem once and for all.

Understandably, this plan had plenty of critics, although some applauded the madcap scheme for attempting to give the world a regrettable but perhaps essential Plan B. Oerlemans’ scheme is similar to this, but on a far smaller scale – but both show how desperate people are to fight against man-made climate change in any way they can.

[H/T: New Scientist]

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