Combat Global Warming: How About Fake Ice Floes at the North Pole?

Posted on July 29, 2013


Lila’s cockamamie idea:  so crazy it just might work.

This summer, just like every summer for the past decade, the North Pole has a lake on it, as Eric Levenson reports for The Atlantic.   Check out the photos accompanying the article; scary stuff.  Not only that, but the extent of sea ice that makes up the polar ice cap has been in steady decline since the 1970s or so, as you can see by this chart at the Washington Post.

The annual North Pole Lake. Credit: North Pole Environmental Observatory.

As Maggie Villiger neatly explains in an article for PBS, this retreat of the ice sets up a sort of feedback cycle which hastens even more warming:  ice has a high reflectivity (albedo, in astronomy talk) and reflects more heat and light back into space.  When some of the ice is lost and relatively dark areas are exposed, those areas absorb more light and heat, and the environment warms; more ice melts; and the feedback loop continues.

So here’s Lila’s cockamamie idea:  make a bunch of artificial white ice floes and float them around in the Arctic!  Now wait, I know you think it’s silly, but hear me out, because actual scientists have come up with even crazier ideas, like space mirrors.  Lila’s Cockamamie Ice Floes would be cheaper, easier to modify as needed, and have multiple benefits.

First, you may scoff at the vast expanse of fake ice needed to increase our albedo.  To that I say:  pffft.  We have managed, with no effort whatsoever, to establish a giant, Texas-sized swirling eddy of plastic garbage in the Pacific.  It’s not like we don’t have materials.  Our Cockamamie Ice Floes could be styrofoam, or bubble wrap, or barrels all tied together and painted white, or all of the above.  Heck, if we could actually get the plastic trash out of the Pacific, haul it north, and re-manufacture it into the Cockamamie Ice Floes, that’s two big environmental problems down with one effort!  If the artist Christo can wrap whole islands in bright pink polypropylene and clean up the environment at the same time, I don’t see why we can’t do Cockamamie Ice Floes in the Arctic.  Heck, if we’re not up to it, let’s get Christo to do it.

Christo’s “Surrounded Islands,” 1982.

Using Lila’s Cockamamie Ice Floes to re-establish our polar albedo would have another huge benefit, if the floes are built and placed thoughtfully:  the fake floes just might be a key to saving the polar bear.  As Arctic ice retreats farther every year, increasing the open-ocean distances that the bears… and their new cubs… must swim each spring, more and more bears are drowning.  Why not put some (really humungous) floats out there to help them out?

I ask again:  why not?  Anyone got any better ideas?  I mean – isn’t this more feasible than the space-mirrors idea?  Anybody got Christo’s phone number?