Heating several times faster than the rest of the planet’s surface, the poles provoke powerful heat waves. Such incidents have already been reported in both the Arctic and the Antarctic this year. The melting of ice and the destruction of glaciers accelerates the rise of the sea level on Earth.
However, Environmental Research Communications recently published a study that suggests refreezing the Earth’s poles is possible and even relatively inexpensive. This can be done by reducing the amount of sunlight, reports Phys.org.
Researchers have already developed a potential future program: high-flying jets will spray microscopic aerosol particles into the atmosphere at latitudes 60 degrees north and south — roughly Anchorage and southern Patagonia. If introduced at an altitude of 13,000 meters, these aerosols will slowly drift poleward, somewhat shading the surface below.
“There is widespread and sensible trepidation about deploying aerosols to cool the planet,” says study leader Wake Smith, “but if the risk/benefit equation were to pay off anywhere, it would be at the poles.”
Particle injections will occur seasonally during the longer days of spring and early summer. The same fleet of aircraft could serve both hemispheres, crossing to the opposite pole as the seasons change. Earlier military air-to-air refueling tankers, such as the KC-135 and A330 MMRT, did not have sufficient payloads at the required altitudes, while newly designed high-altitude tankers would be much more efficient. A fleet of about 125 such tankers could carry enough payload to cool the regions poleward of 60°N/S by 2°C per year, returning them to roughly average pre-industrial temperatures. The cost is estimated at $11 billion per year, which is less than a third of the cost of cooling the entire planet by the same 2°C. It is worth noting that this is a small cost to achieve net zero emissions.
“Game changing though this could be in a rapidly warming world, stratospheric aerosol injections merely treat a symptom of climate change but not the underlying disease. It’s aspirin, not penicillin. It’s not a substitute for decarbonization,” says Smith.
Cooling at the poles will provide immediate protection for only a small part of the planet, although mid-latitudes should also see some cooling. Since less than 1% of the world’s population lives in the target deployment areas, a polar deployment would pose far less direct risk to the majority of humanity than a global program.
“Nonetheless, any intentional turning of the global thermostat would be of common interest to all of humanity and not merely the province of Arctic and Patagonian nations,” Smith adds.
The current study is only a small and preliminary step toward understanding the costs, benefits, and risks of climate action in high latitude. This gives additional reasons to believe that such tools can be useful both for preserving the cryosphere near the poles and for slowing the rise of sea levels around the world.