Scientists propose refreezing Arctic in battle against climate change

A group of researchers has proposed using wind power to refreeze the Arctic.

Project would involve 10 million devices and cost $500 billion US

A scientist has proposed a method of refreezing the Arctic. (Marco Tedesco/WWF)

A group of researchers has proposed using wind-powered pumps to refreeze the Arctic.

The proposal seems ambitious: it involves 10 million devices deployed over 10 per cent of the Arctic, at a cost of $500 billion US. 

Lead author of the paper, astrophysicist Steven Desch, concerned about what some climatologists predict to be an ice-free Arctic by 2030, challenged a group of his students at Arizona State University to develop a method to refreeze the Arctic.

Without ice to reflect sunlight into space, heat continues to be absorbed in the region. This, in turn, causes further warming and accelerates global climate change. While cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions is the solution various companies, researchers and governments are aiming for, Desch was concerned that it wasn't a "real-world" solution.

Humans will never be a negligible part of the climate system; we're always going to be a driver.- Steve Desch, Arizona State University

On paper, the theory works: pumping 1.3 metres of water to the surface would increase the ice's thickness by one metre per decade. 

But, as the study notes, there are questions: Would the pumps operate in the harsh Arctic conditions? Could the ice production be scaled over a larger area? And what impact would the use of so many pumps have on the environment? However, Desch said, it's a start to a much-needed conversation. 

"We want to provoke discussion, get people thinking about the Arctic in particular, about the need to intervene strongly there, because nothing we do on the world scale is going to be fast enough to save this summer sea ice in the Arctic," Desch said.

Arctic situation 'crazy stuff'

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) director Mark Serreze, who was not associated with the study, said that the paper is a serious effort to tackle an ongoing and important climate change issue.

This year, the Arctic has been experiencing one of the strangest winter seasons glaciologists have seen, he said.

High-pressure systems and a wandering jet stream have been pulling warmer air to higher latitudes, including well into the Arctic. In November and December, the region reached temperatures almost 20 C above normal. Instead of consistent ice growth, there were periods where the ice ceased to expand. The pattern, Serreze said, has become stuck.

The sea ice maximum in the Arctic occurs in March. In 2015, a record low was set, followed by another record in 2016. On Tuesday, the NSIDC announced that preliminary data suggests that 2017 will likely be another record low

There have been periods this past season where temperatures have been close to the melting point, Serreze said. "I mean, this is crazy stuff."

A map of Earth illustrating the global temperature anomalies for February 15, 2017. (Climate Reanalyzer/Climate Change Institute, University of Maine)

Serreze believes unorthodox ideas such as that proposed by Desch are important but should be seen as last-ditch efforts. We need to deal with the root cause: CO2 emissions.

"However, I definitely think it's worth our time and energy to be looking at these sorts of things because we'd definitely want to have them in our back pocket," he said.

Desch said that more discussion and research on different solutions needs to be done in order to combat climate change driven by human activity.

"Humans will never be a negligible part of the climate system; we're always going to be a driver," Desch said.

Desch's team is now looking to put their research through climate models.


Nicole Mortillaro

Senior reporter, science

Based in Toronto, Nicole covers all things science for CBC News. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books. In 2021, she won the Kavli Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for a Quirks and Quarks audio special on the history and future of Black people in science. You can send her story ideas at