As It Happens

Scientist lays out 'ridiculous' plan to pump artificial snow over melting Antarctic

"It's a ridiculous plan, the problem is that ... it is also ridiculous to lose New York," climate scientist Anders Levermann told As It Happens guest host Megan Williams. 

'It's a ridiculous plan,' says Anders Levermann. 'It is also ridiculous to lose New York'

Sea ice is viewed aboard NASA's research aircraft in the Antarctic Peninsula region on Nov. 3, 2017, above Antarctica. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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It's a last-ditch effort to save the Earth: pump trillions of tonnes of man-made snow onto the melting West Antarctic Ice Sheet. 

"It's a ridiculous plan," climate scientist Anders Levermann told As It Happens guest host Megan Williams. "The problem is that ... it is also ridiculous to lose New York."

Scientists believe that global warming has already caused so much melting at the South Pole that the giant ice sheet is now on course to disintegrate. That would trigger an eventual global sea level rise that would leave many coastal cities underwater. 

That's why Levermann, a professor at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and his co-authors have come up with a plan — a wild, hypothetical proposal they neither expect, nor want, to see the light of day.

Their study was published last week in the journal Science Advances

'A choice between two terrible things to do'

The proposal suggests using wind turbines to pump seawater water 1,500 metres up onto the ice. 

Then the water would need to be desalinated and pumped several hundred kilometres inland where it would be frozen into snow. 

It would take 7.4 trillion tonnes of snow over 10 years to decrease the sea level by two centimetres, Levermann said. 

The problem is, you have to keep doing it. And, Levermann points out, it would have a devastating impact on a "unique ecosystem."   

Climate scientist Anders Levermann admits his plan is not ideal as it would destroy the pristine ecosystem of Antarctica. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In order to complete the project, new wind turbines, pumps and vehicles would need to be developed from scratch to hold up in the frigid temperatures — something Levermann says would effectively ruin the pristine landscape. 

"I have to emphasize that I'm not proposing this because it's a ridiculous idea," he said. 

But showing the magnitude of the problem — and how giant the solution must be — is partly the point of the study, he said.

"We're facing this dilemma that we have a choice between two terrible things to do," Levermann said. 

"Either do nothing, which is also a decision, and lose our cultural heritage … or we do something terrible as destroying nature in Western Antarctica."

Reducing fossil fuels would be preferable 

While Levermann admits the project has many flaws, he says it is doable, if governments come together.  

"It's a huge endeavour. It's something like an Antarctic Moon station," he said. 

Other scientists aren't as confident. 

"The plan is almost — not quite — up there with building giant glass domes to house our cities or moving people to a terraformed Mars to escape the troubles people inflict on our planet," Jeffrey S. Kargel, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., told Reuters. 

"The visionary thinking we need most of all is what we can do to take our civilization off dependence on fossil fuels."

That's something that Levermann agrees with. 

"Keeping the Paris climate agreement is an absolute must," he said.  "Every country has to unify to find a consensus that we have to not destroy the planet we live on." 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Reuters. Interview with Anders Levermann produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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