A radical solution aimed at tackling disastrous losses of sea ice in the Arctic could see a network of devices set up to help replenish ice sheets.
The lowest ever levels of Arctic sea ice were recorded in 2016, but researchers believe that they could reverse the trend by constructing 10 million wind-powered pumps to produce more ice.
The project could help to reduce the losses or slow the pace of decline, but the price would be a staggering $50 billion (£40 billion) per year over ten years – a total cost of $500 billion (£400 billion).
Physicist Steven Desch and colleagues from Arizona State University came up with what they hope could be a solution.
Their simple yet expensive idea was to create a network of buoys that could artificially thicken existing sea ice, by using a hose and wind-power to pump water from below the ice and spread it over the top.
The team calculated that 1.4 metres of seawater pumped to the frigid surface during the long Arctic winter night lets it freeze more readily and produces an additional one metre of ice in a single winter.
Each windmill-powered pump could artificially thicken ice over about a 0.1-square-kilometre area – about the size of 15 football pitches – according to the full report, published in Earth’s Future.
About 10 million windmills would be needed to cover a large enough area to be effective.
The idea came about as a response to the loss of sea ice in the Arctic, which is melting faster in the summer and not replenishing itself fast enough in the winter.
This has a two-fold effect on the planet.
While ice reflects 90 per cent of sunlight, the ocean absorbs 90 per cent, so the less ice there is, the more heat the planet absorbs.
In addition, when Arctic permafrost ground melts, it releases methane, amplifying the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere just like CO2.
Dr Desch said: ‘The scale of climate change and associated problems is so large it paralyzes us into inaction.
‘But we can make real progress in the Arctic by putting people to work and using just a fraction of the industrial capacity that accidentally caused climate change in the first place.
‘Maybe trying to make more ice in the Arctic using windmills and pumps and hoses is a crazy idea, but what’s really crazy is doing nothing while the Arctic melts.
‘We hope to provoke discussion and action. Whether we choose to be in or not, we’re in charge of the climate now, so let’s all do the best we can.’
In January, an alarming ‘doom spiral’ animation put the damage done last year by global sea ice losses into perspective.
The animation shows how stable sea ice levels have been over the last 40 years – until 2016.
The data is based on a graph from November 2016, which shows the area of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic lost each year, from 1978-2017.
What is clear from both the original graph and animation, is that global sea ice levels were fairly stable for the last 40 years, until 2016 when they significantly dropped.
In the Arctic, sea ice reached the lowest winter maximum extent on record in March 2016, which did not bode well for the rest of the year.
Overall, 2016 resulted in an annual average for Arctic sea ice extent that was lower than any year ever recorded.