A New Study Proposes Building a Giant, Artificial Wall to Save Antarctica's Ice Sheets

Monday, 24 September 2018 - 1:07PM
Earth
Monday, 24 September 2018 - 1:07PM
A New Study Proposes Building a Giant, Artificial Wall to Save Antarctica's Ice Sheets
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Image credit: Pixabay
Yes, people are still pursuing humanity's dream of building a full-size space elevator, but the new structures proposed in a recent study (published in the scientific journal The Cryosphere) may take the cake for mind-bogglingly difficult building projects: the authors have noticed that the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is at risk of total collapse, so they'd like to prop it up with a series of 1,000-foot mounds, or, better yet, build a giant underwater wall that will prevent warm water from melting the glacier.

According to John Moore, one of the authors of the study, the sheer size of the project is to be expected when you're talking about changing the entire geometry of part of the seafloor. "Doing geoengineering means often considering the unthinkable," he said in a statement. Moore and his fellow author Michael Wolovick think that these kinds of measures are warranted, especially considering the potential impact of the Thwaites Glacier: "Thwaites could easily trigger a runaway [West Antarctic] ice sheet collapse that would ultimately raise global sea level by about 3 metres," said Wolovick.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems.

But even if the proposed structures were greenlit for construction, Moore and Wolovick admit that the whole endeavor would be "comparable to the largest civil engineering projects that humanity has ever attempted" and "at the edge of human capabilities." Not the capabilities of the UN, or the global community, but the capabilities of humans as a species. Sure, Dubai may have constructed man-made islands for a resort, but that's peanuts compared to this kind of "geoengineering." On top of that, the creation of the mound substructures would only have a 30% chance of success over the next 1,000 years, while the wall would have a 70% chance.

When it comes down to it, the whole thing seems more like an exercise in exploring the boundaries of human ingenuity. According to Wolovick: "The most important result [of our study] is that a meaningful ice sheet intervention is broadly within the order of magnitude of plausible human achievements."
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