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Top: Ice lab at TU Delft, where ice thickening process was researched in the coolers

Bottom: Fonger drilling an ice core on the field trip to Cambridge Bay

Restoring Arctic ice through pumping sea water on top of it in winter

In 2016, scientists proposed a simple solution to save the Arctic ice: increase its volume by pumping water onto the existing ice sheets. When pumped over the ice, Arctic sea water freezes quickly due to the low Arctic atmosphere temperature. The pumping produces thicker ice sheets, less likely to melt completely during summer. Whilst a promising idea due to its simplicity, it requires further exploration to determine the most effective approach for achieving scalability. 

A new concept

We are developing a new concept that uses specific locations around the Arctic Ocean to create ice and then transport it into the Arctic waters by existing ocean currents. Through this much more effective ice distribution process and with larger pumps,  we think we can keep the number of pump installations needed to restore 100,000 km² of ice from melting in the summer to approximately 100-1000, compared to the millions suggested by S.J. Desch in his seminal work, entitled Arctic Ice Management (2016). 

Arctic ocean currents

The Sand Motor, an artificial peninsula in The Netherlands

Engineering with nature

Coming from The Netherlands, a country mostly below sea level, we learned that working with nature, rather than against it, is in most cases the best way to accomplish huge projects. For example, to reinforce our coast line a large artificial peninsula was created out of 21.5 million cubic meters of sand, dubbed ‘The Sand Motor’. Ocean current, wind and waves are now gradually spreading the sand along the coast and into the dunes. This example of ‘engineering with nature’ reflects how we plan to use the force of nature to help with the effective distribution of Arctic sea ice.

Think big, start small

Though the scale of this project will be gigantic, it all starts very small. We used a university cold room to mimic the Arctic temperatures. In here, we filled a series of coolers with a combination of fresh water and the right amount of sea salt. This ‘ice lab’ enables us to test our hypotheses about ice growth using different methods and under different circumstances. Hypotheses validated in the lab will consequently be tested in real Arctic environments in our upcoming field test. We will then use the outcomes for our first demonstration installation in the Arctic. This will be a continuous iterative process leading eventually to an effective process for Arctic ice thickening to help the Arctic ice survive the summer months and use the reflective assets of the ice sheets for ‘Solar Radiation Management’  to keep our planet cool.

Blocks of ice used to test our hypotheses

Involving local communities

The local indigenous communities have a deep understanding of the Arctic environment, its ecosystems, and the dynamics of sea ice. For generations, they have inhabited and relied on the Arctic region for their livelihoods and cultural sustenance. Their traditional knowledge encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the sea ice’s behavior, seasonal variations, and its ecological significance. They are also the ones disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. For them, the loss of sea ice is very real and has a huge impact. By involving the local population in restoration initiatives, we can integrate their invaluable traditional ecological knowledge into scientific research and planning, leading to more effective strategies and outcomes.

The indigenous communities have inherent rights to their lands and resources. These rights are recognized and protected by international agreements, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These rights mean they have a final say in providing permits for projects in their region. Nature restoration projects like ours have the potential to create employment opportunities and contribute to local economic development.

We will use the  8 Inuit Qaujimajatuangit principles as guidelines:

  • ᐃᓅᖃᑎᒌᑦᓯᐊᕐᓂᖅ – Inuuqatigiitsiarniq
    Respecting others, relationships and caring for people
  • ᑐᙵᓇᕐᓂᖅ – Tunnganarniq
    Fostering good spirit by being open, welcoming and inclusive.
  • ᐱᔨᑦᓯᕐᓂᖅ – Pijitsirniq
    Serving and providing for family and/or community.
  • ᐋᔩᖃᑎᒌᓐᓂᖅ – Aajiiqatigiinniq
    Decision making through discussion and consensus.
  • ᐱᓕᒻᒪᒃᓴᕐᓂᖅ – Pilimmaksarniq
    Development of skills through observation, mentoring, practice, and effort.
  • ᐃᑲᔪᖅᑎᒌᓐᓂᖅ – Ikajuqtigiinniq
    Working together for a common cause.
  • ᖃᓄᖅᑑᕐᓂᖅ – Qanuqtuurniq
    Being innovative and resourceful.
  • ᐊᕙᑎᑦᑎᓐᓂᒃ ᑲᒪᑦᓯᐊᕐᓂᖅ – Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq
    Respect and care for the land, animals, and the environment.

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