What if Arctic sea ice melts?
All of it… during the summer!
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), over the past three decades the oldest, thickest ice (13-20 feet thick) has declined by a stunning 95 percent and 70 percent of Arctic sea ice is now thin “seasonal ice” that quickly melts in the Arctic summer.
Based upon scientific analyses, loss of sea ice impacts the planet’s biggest thermostat, i.e., the Arctic sea ice itself, into a wacky climate monster that dims/diminishes one of the biggest reflectors of solar radiation, thereby exposing Earth to excessive solar heat quickly absorbed in dark iceless sea water that would otherwise be reflected back into space, according to NOAA >80%, by a bright icy surface , bringing in its wake unprecedented climate havoc: (1) Northern Hemispheric ultra-powerful storms (2) disrupted agricultural seasons distort crop growth (3) coastal cities at risk of flooding as the Greenland ice sheet crumbles more and more than ever before; a result of the loss of its biggest refrigerator, right next door.
Based upon several early warning signs, the stakes are enormously high. After all, Arctic sea ice has exerted positive influence, seemingly forever, by maintaining a 10,000-year Holocene Era steady climate system, earmarked by a “not-too-hot-not-too-cold spectacular Goldilocks experience” ever since people first sat around fires in caves thanks, in part, to the ever-vigilant Arctic sea ice thermostat. That gift to humanity is almost gone after 10K years of hard work. Early results of its demise are already forthcoming.
Arctic sea ice loss is arguably one of the most significant tipping points in human history. Can civilization handle it?
A study published in Nature Communications in November 2023 characterized Greenland’s northern glaciers as “in trouble” with its ice shelves rapidly weakening, destabilizing much earlier than previously thought. Loss of Arctic sea ice will accelerate this weakening, by a lot. Meantime, coastal cities of the world are not prepared for major surges.
The direct relationship between the Arctic’s inordinate warming with sea ice loss and disintegrating Greenland ice shelves has been identified for some time now: “Current research suggests that disappearing sea ice and disproportionate Arctic warming contribute to accelerated Greenland melt, which is now the single largest driver of sea-level rise.” (Source: How Are Reduced Arctic Sea ice and Increased Greenland Melting Connected? Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Vol. 53, Issue 1, 2021)
A proposal to revive, i.e., refreeze Arctic Sea ice, comes from a steadfast group of scientists/engineers/inventors working under the acronym PRAG. They believe they can provide the proper guidance to rescue the Arctic and welcome any support both financially and intellectually because – beware, beware – geo-engineering is a hot topic that sparks vicious dogfighting within the scientific community.
What does refreezing the Arctic entail?
A white paper authored by John Nissen founder of Planetary Restoration Action Group (“PRAG”) claims two main methods (there are others under consideration, e.g. MEER) are needed to cool the Arctic and both should be employed in conjunction: (1) marine cloud brightening – according to cloud physicist John Latham, adding salt particles from sea water to clouds increases the reflectively of sunlight thereby increasing cooling for Arctic sea ice formation; and (2) stratospheric aerosol injection – aerosol particles, a coolant called sulfur dioxide (SO2) sprayed into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, mimicking the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991-92 which emitted enough SO2 into the stratosphere to cause ~0.5C global cooling.
Interestingly, injecting SO2 to help cool the planet was suggested by the US National Academy of Sciences way back in 1992.
The arguments for and against solar radiation management (SRM) in the simplest of terms revolve around the perceived risks of harm. On the opposition side, there is fear that SRM could inadvertently create a Frankenstein climate system that could do bad things such as (1) extraordinary droughts or (2) disrupt monsoons or (3) damage the precious ozone layer. There is also the fear that SRM would encourage more fossil fuel emissions, known as the moral hazard argument.
The other side in favor of SRM geo-engineering counters by claiming there is no known evidence of significant risk of harm from deliberate geo-engineering to cool the planet, whilst also acknowledging there is no such thing as riskless interference with the climate system. After all, we’ve already geoengineered a Frankenstein climate system by emitting greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere via cars, trains, planes, and industry for over 100 years. So, it’s fair to ask what’s wrong with geo-engineering to reduce temperatures and defuse the climate crisis? Time is short, according to UN Secretary General António Guterres: “We are entering an era of global boiling.”
PRAG has no knowledge of concrete evidence that Stratospheric Aerosol Injection causes harm whereas they claim there are big potential benefits, such as restoring Arctic sea ice. Regarding the moral hazard argument: PRAG claims “the moral hazard is ‘not to geoengineer’ when geoengineering could prevent catastrophe.” Thus, they’ve staked their position, insinuating that society has few, if any, reasonable alternatives.
For millions of years, Arctic Sea ice has been one of the most important natural regulators of the Northern Hemisphere climate system. Of utmost importance, less sea ice means more sun radiation absorbed into the dark background of sea water, which means more solar heat absorbed in the sea, melting more ice, etc. in a vicious cycle. The result could be Hot House Earth, especially if melting permafrost releases vast quantities of entrapped frozen methane clathrates (aka: methane hydrates) in shallow continental-shelf waters offshore Russia, to wit: the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, and East Siberian Sea.
As it happens, the entire Northern Hemisphere is a target of what happens in the Arctic. For example, rapid warming has altered the behavior of the all-important polar jet stream, a high-level stream of air which encircles the planet in a wavy, east-moving pattern. This alteration has led to the jet stream drooping and getting stuck in big holding patterns, causing extremes of weather, like endless blistering heatwaves or atmospheric rivers that stay put.
Indeed, extremes of heat have already become a serious problem, e.g., according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, as of August 2023, seventy-five percent (75%) of Spain has been declared vulnerable to desertification because of excessive heat. That UN declaration was in 2023. On January 25, 2024 Gavarda, Spain temperature was 30.7°C (87.3°F) … in the middle of winter. As of early February 2024, Pyrenees ski resorts have closed because of snow drought.
Wake up calls of a climate in trouble are found everywhere. It’s getting serious.
Crazed, erratic polar jet streams, as a result of loss of Arctic sea ice, causes the jet stream to dip south, bringing bitter cold and powerful blizzards to America. This has always been a winter-time climate feature, but it’s gotten worse, and much worse; if the Arctic turns ice free, today’s blizzards will likely turn into something much more powerfully damaging.
PRAG has a recommended agenda to tackle the job of reconstituting Arctic sea ice. PRAG founder John Nissen has been investigating geo-engineering for over a decade, which he believes is urgently needed to save/restore Arctic sea ice. He has theorized the Gulf Stream and Arctic sea ice serve as a thermostatic control system for preventing the planet from heating above a certain temperature, approximately the global temperature of some years ago. As such, Arctic sea ice is an essential part of that control system. Global warming threatens to destroy it at a given summer’s end, possibly by 2030. Thereby, disabling the thermostatic control of the planet. This could bring on the biggest-ever disruptive climate system, to wit: (1) methane discharge from permafrost, igniting rapid global warming, as well as (2) disintegration of portions of the Greenland ice sheet, potentially flooding portions of cities like Miami Beach.
Time is of essence. James Hansen, Earth Institute/Columbia University predicts global temperatures could reach 4C this century without cooling intervention. According to Hansen, the world’s foremost climate scientist, who supports geo-engineering, something must be done soon. He believes we’ll surpass 1.5C next decade and 2C by mid-century. These are global temperature markers above pre-industrial levels that will manifest degradation of ecosystems like the Arctic far ahead of what mainstream science expects.
Earth’s energy imbalance or “sunlight in” versus “sunlight out” is currently running at a frightful rate @ 1.36 W/m2 as of the current 2020s decade. This is troubling (which is the understatement of the year). The current rate of solar radiation is double the 2005-2015 rate @ 0.71 W/m2 (Source: James Hansen). Doubling solar radiation “watts per square meter” over only a decade is a surefire way to heat up the planet much faster than ever before. This one data point is extremely significant and portends bigger trouble down the line.
The Planetary Restoration Action Group welcomes help from interested parties that want to get involved in restoring the Arctic. In their view, the alternative, or doing nothing, is not an option. Meantime, the Arctic is heating up ever faster as global warming spikes upwards, as cautioned by James Hansen. Accordingly, something must be done at the highest priority of international action to halt the Arctic warming and start refreezing the Arctic. The future for every young person is at stake.
According to PRAG, there’s no reason to be downtrodden or defeated if cooling intervention, together with efforts to reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are activated to restore the planet to a safe, sustainable, biodiverse, and productive state, leading to a bright prospect for future generations. PRAG has a hopeful message.
But time is of essence like never before. According to NOAA, because of global warming, the Arctic’s infrastructure has radically changed for the first time in human history, losing its multi-year thick ice infrastructure. And according to NASA, 70 percent of Arctic sea ice is now “seasonal ice,” that quickly melts in the Arctic summer. Considering the massive area encompassed by the 70 percent, the remaining 30 percent is starting to resemble someone hanging onto a windowsill by fingertips.
Alas, NASA claims Arctic sea ice rarely, if ever, melted in the not-too-distant past.
To contact the Planetary Restoration Action Group:
John Nissen: [email protected]
Robert Hunziker is a journalist from Los Angeles