In the Swiss Alps, efforts to stop glacial melting have become commonplace. Each year, for example, a group of residents makes its way to the Rhône Glacier to cover up the ice in huge white blankets. (Smithsonian)
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- How do white blankets help mitigate melting on the Rhône Glacier?
- Have the low-tech white blankets been an effective tool against glacial melt?
- Is this a solution to the problem of glacial melt in the Alps, the Arctic, and elsewhere?
- No. The stopgap measure cannot reasonably address the entirety of the Rhône Glacier itself, much less the massive ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland.
- Ultimately, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing the current global warming trend is the only real solution. “Even if you have a way of restoring ice in the Arctic, it does not solve the CO2 problem, it doesn’t solve acidification of the oceans, it doesn’t fully decrease temperatures. It helps, but it doesn’t solve anything,” says one researcher.
- What are some other ways scientists are working to combat glacial melt? Read through this E&E News article for some help.
- One organization, Ice911, hopes to mimic the blanketing idea on a larger scale with different material. Ice911 aims to “preserve Arctic ice by spreading our eco-friendly reflective sand on top of ice in strategic locations.”
- Similarly, another research group “hopes to save Switzerland’s Morteratsch Glacier by blowing reflective artificial snow across its surface.”
- Another suggestion is the use of wind-powered pumps “to draw seawater out of the ocean and onto the surface of the ice. Doing so during the winter would allow the pumped water to refreeze and thicken the existing sea ice.”
- Another idea is to build a series of sills at the mouth of tidewater glaciers. Sills are freestanding structures made of stone, sand, or other material placed close offshore. These barriers would slow the process of warm ocean water melting the glaciers.
- The high-tech solutions listed above are examples of geoengineering, the large-scale manipulation of the earth to change one or more of its systems (here, the water cycle). Are the Rhône Glacier blankets an example of geoengineering?
- Not really. The reflective fleece blankets are too small-scale to really be considered a geoengineering effort.
- Unlike the ambitious geoengineering plans and proposals, the Rhône Glacier blankets are a great example of boots-on-the-ground engineering, already at work.
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