The Arctic is in Crisis

The Arctic is in Crisis

Steve Zornetzer, PhD and AIP Board Member 

I am going to start out this report with something that scientists normally don’t do and that is to share some feelings with you. I’m scared, I’m anxious, I’m frustrated and I’m angry. Political leaders and humankind in general have not taken climate change and global warming issues more seriously than they have in the past.  We are losing ground on global warming. It is advancing much faster than we had hoped. We have not abided by the Paris Accords or any of the commitments we have made as governments around the world to begin weaning ourselves from a carbon economy and from fossil fuels and therefore climate change continues to advance. We have only a short window of time to act.  

Our planet’s climate is changing due to human-caused disruption of the balance between solar radiation absorption (heat gain) and heat loss into space. Atmospheric absorption of surface thermal radiation has been increasing due to huge emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases by humankind into the Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. These gases, commonly called “greenhouse gases” (GHG), trap heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise be reflected back into space. The net effect is a reduction in planetary heat loss while solar radiation heat gain continues, thus warming the planet. In its simplest form, this imbalance is the root cause of global warming (GW).

So, the question is, how do we, as the species that caused this unintended GW problem, solve the problem? Before addressing this question directly, as we will below, it is important to understand the consequences of doing nothing. The adverse impacts of GW and associated climate change are undeniably dangerous: intensified destructive storms, droughts, wildfires, sea level rise, and an intense decrease in biodiversity caused by habitat degradation. Together, these consequences threaten the material safety and food security of a growing human population. Doing nothing to slow and potentially reverse GW is not an option. Human and economic suffering will be catastrophic. Cost estimates for climate change-related disasters and associated infrastructure, agricultural, economic and human health impacts by 2040 are staggering. In just the next two decades, these costs are estimated to be $54 trillion world-wide. Today it is estimated that the Arctic is warming more than three times faster than the rest of the planet. This is the Arctic crisis.

At the Arctic Ice Project (AIP), we believe that regional surface albedo modification (SAM), will strategically increase the reflectivity of Arctic sea ice to preserve and extend its persistence. SAM, if proven safe and effective, could be deployed with few or no unintended consequences. The more ice that persists during Arctic summer months, the more solar reflectivity and the less planetary heating. In recent decades, Arctic sea and land ice have been melting at frighteningly fast rates. This ice loss is reducing the planet’s reflectivity and simultaneously increasing heat gain through greater absorption of solar energy by dark Arctic Ocean waters during summer when the sun shines 24 hours/day. This accelerating loss of sea ice is contributing to the alarmingly rapid warming of the Arctic. Not many years ago, Arctic warming and sea ice loss was thought to be a consequence of GW. Today, scientists now know that Arctic warming has become so great that it is now a contributor to GW. Some scientists estimate as much as 25% of all GW would be contributed by complete loss of summer Arctic sea ice. Loss of Arctic sea ice engages two feedback mechanisms that promote accelerated warming. First, loss of summer sea ice reduces the reflectivity of the surface allowing more solar energy to be absorbed by the ocean, leading to more heating which in turn leads to further sea ice loss. Second, sea ice provides a thermal barrier protecting the cold Arctic air from the relatively warmer ocean below, effectively insulating the colder air from the warmer ocean water. Loss of sea ice removes this insulation and the ocean warms the air which in turn melts more ice. These two positive feedback loops contribute to “Arctic Amplification”, i.e., accelerated warming. 

The objective of sea ice SAM is to break these feedback loops, restore sea ice, mitigate warming over a large Arctic region, and slow GW. AIP’s innovation is to increase the reflectivity of young ice by applying a very thin layer of reflective hollow silica glass microspheres onto the surface of the ice. This could increase the reflectivity of ice by about 50 percent, reducing the absorption of solar radiation. The material used in this treatment is nontoxic, consisting mostly of silica (the primary material in sand, and most rocks). Bio-toxicological testing to date has shown no adverse impact on wildlife. AIP believes, in agreement with a recent National Academy of Science report, that a major research and development effort is urgently needed to fully understand the safety, effectiveness, cost and potential unintended consequences of currently proposed climate intervention approaches. We need every effective and safe tool in the toolbox to be ready for use. The clock is ticking and the Arctic crisis contributes significantly to the GW crisis, looming larger and larger each year we do nothing. We must act! Doing nothing is not an option! We appreciate your support and encouragement as we make progress towards providing an effective mitigation to GW.

Simulating the Effects of AIP’s Deployment in Beaufort Gyre Through Climate Modeling

Simulating the Effects of AIP’s Deployment in Beaufort Gyre Through Climate Modeling

Anthony Strawa, PhD

The overall objective of this project is to simulate reflective material deployment in the Beaufort Gyre and evaluate its regional and global climate impacts. The Beaufort Gyre (BG) is an area in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska and Canada that is known as a sea ice nursery, allowing young ice to mature into multi-year ice.

The project will be executed by Climformatics with Arctic Ice Project oversight and collaboration with Dr. Smedsrud of U. Bergen and the Bjerkens Centre for Climate Research in Norway.

The AIP treatment is modeled by perturbing  the sea ice albedo in the targeted treatment area (Fig.1) using the latest version of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) fully coupled climate model named CESM 2.0. CESM 2.0 is one of several global climate models (GCM) used by the scientific community to produce estimates that support the United Nations’ IPCC studies. This model was chosen because it represents the Arctic climate better than other GCMs. The model configuration includes atmospheric, land, sea ice and ocean components. This study models the period 2000-2050 with two 10-member ensembles of climate model simulations: reference and BG perturbation cases. These climate simulations are transient with evolving Greenhouse Gas (GHG) forcing from observed (historical) data sets from 2000 to 2015 and future climate scenario Shared Socioeconomic Pathways SSP2-4.5 from 2015-2050.

Our hypothesis is that brightening the sea ice in the BG core will thicken the sea ice and consequently spread basin wide by the BG circulation. We will quantify the amount of sea ice volume increase per year, assess the delay in reaching the state of a summer ice free Arctic, evaluate the efficacy of the albedo enhancement in the BG region and compare it to earlier simulations of Arctic-wide and Fram Strait targeted applications.

NCAR diagnostics packages for the atmospheric and sea ice model components will be used to analyze each ensemble member individually (20 diagnostics runs), as well as, for the differences of the two main cases (BG – CONTROL) (10 diagnostics runs). The diagnostics analysis includes calculation and visualization of monthly, seasonal and annual climatologies of many variables: air temperature, humidity, winds, pressure, clouds, precipitation, and etc. at different vertical atmospheric levels, as well as, water cycle and radiation budget components at the surface and at the top of the atmosphere. An analysis using analytic tools written specifically for this project will be performed focused on the changes in the Arctic radiation budget, atmospheric dynamics and ice cover due to the BG albedo enhancement. The efficacy of the albedo enhancement technology will be estimated by comparing its impacts (ice volume/ice area/ice thickness changes) per square kilometer of treated area compared to the results from our previous simulations: Arctic-wide, and Fram Strait.

The project will result in at least one scientific paper submitted for peer-reviewed publication within 12 months from project start. 

Polar map showing the Beaufort Gyre treatment area. The arrows show typical ocean currents. Note the circular vortex motion in the Gyre.

Polar map showing the Beaufort Gyre treatment area. The arrows show typical ocean currents. Note the circular vortex motion in the Gyre.

Research at SINTEF, Status Report July 6, 2022

Research at SINTEF, Status Report July 6, 2022

Gary Wolff, PhD Research at SINTEF

SINTEF researcher

SINTEF Ocean Lab, located in Trondheim Norway, and part of one of the largest research organizations in Europe, is evaluating what will likely happen to Hollow Glass Microspheres (HGMs) if deployed in the Arctic Ocean, and what impact they might have on the Arctic ecosystem. 

The ‘fate and transport’ tests on three types of HGMs are complete. Algae and bacteria did not grow well on the surface of the HGMs, so they will probably stay reflective for years in the Ocean. Two types of HGMs mostly continued to float when tumbled repeatedly in seawater or repeatedly frozen and then thawed. Yet even these two types of HGMs broke at a modest rate. A modest amount of breakage is good since it means that the cooling benefit of spreading HGMs will last many years, but is also a naturally reversible effect. Greenhouse gas emissions have to decline and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere need to be removed as soon as possible. HGM deployment is intended to ‘buy time’ for that to occur; but we do not want to permanently affect the Arctic Ocean. 

Next, three species essential to the Arctic Ocean ecosystem will be exposed to the best performing type of HGM from the fate and transport studies. Billions of Calanus, a microscopic creature, selectively filter feed small bits of algae and other living things near the ocean surface. They are in turn an essential food source for small fish. Will Calanus eat whole or broken HGMs? And if they do, will HGMs kill them or slow their rate of growth? Or pass through without harm? Blue mussels live near shore and also filter feed, but they eat whatever is in the water they filter. Will whole and broken HGMs pass through blue mussels harmlessly?  Polychaetes (worms) live in the mud at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. Because broken HGMs will fall to the bottom, SINTEF will see if there is any harm to Polychaetes that eat broken HGMs, such as lower growth or reproductive rates. 

The fate and transport, and biological tests, should be ready to submit to one or more peer-reviewed journals by the end of 2022. These results, if positive, will support permit applications for field testing. 

But the results will be valuable even if they are not entirely positive. All HGMs are not the same. So although the best types of HGMs now available are being tested, it may be necessary to ask manufacturers to produce slightly different types of HGMs that are safer. For example, if broken HGMs cause problems but whole ones do not, manufacturers might be able to make an HGM that breaks like safety glass into pieces without sharp edges.  We could then test the re-engineered HGM for safety.      

I’ve Never Supported Geoengineering, So Why Now?

I’ve Never Supported Geoengineering, So Why Now?

Matt Richter, PhD

My name is Matt Richter. I’m a physicist by training and received my PhD at Stanford doing polysyllabic work that very few people in the world actually understand or perhaps care about. Given my background, you would think that I’d be all for everything and anything that could help us deal with the problem of global warming. And yes, I think it’s the single most important issue facing our species.  

However, being a physicist, I also understand how human efforts with global reach have never really worked out that well. All the carbon we’ve burned from the start of the industrial age to now? Yes, harnessing the power of fire to do work has allowed for unimaginable progress! And it’s raised atmospheric CO2 levels to truly horrific levels. Our use of plastics unleashed both endocrine disruptors and microplastics that are now found in pretty much every animal and every part of the planet, no matter how remote. We’ve disrupted fisheries, upended ecosystems, destroyed rainforests and polluted air, land, and sea. And the period of time we’re in now is looking like a period of global extinctions the likes of which may very well equal the past death of the dinosaurs.

The idea of doing something with global reach has always scared me. I mean, as a species our batting average has been pretty poor, spending our future for dubious gains today. But despite this track record of global damage, there are two reasons why I’m supporting Arctic Ice Project (AIP).

The first reason I support AIP is time, or rather the lack of it. I come from a family that has been active in environmental science for a long time. My father, Burton Richter, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for running one of two groups that confirmed the Standard Model (better known as Quarks to people outside the field.)  After winning the Nobel Prize, his focus slowly but surely moved to energy policy– even writing a book, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century. Were he still alive, I think even he, a subject matter expert, would be surprised at how fast change is happening now. Growing up in science, around people who really care about making the planet a better place, I’m more aware than most about the scale and scope of the issues we’re facing. Change is here now, and it’s happening fast. There is no time to “wait and see” as so many who don’t want to change advocate doing. There is no time to lose to make a difference. 

The second reason I support AIP is how it works. Small hollow glass spheres are spread onto new ice to make it more reflective so that it can get thicker faster and last longer. These are called “hollow glass microspheres” in the trades, but try to think of them as “shiny sand.” This shiny sand is composed of silica, which is ubiquitous. This approach appeals to me. Research is continuing, but this appears to buy us time to do the big work of decarbonizing while stalling the worst impacts of climate change.

These are the reasons I’m giving my support to AIP. We’re almost out of time and this approach just makes sense. I would like to encourage others to join me in supporting Arctic Ice Project while we still have time to make a difference.


Arctic Ambassador: Jennifer Krach

Arctic Ambassador: Jennifer Krach

Jennifer Krach has been a vital part of our great strides over the last two years. Her major gifts have provided a firm base of support from which we have grown our team, expertise, outreach, and results, to a vastly accelerated degree. This native Californian loves to surf, hike, and stay active in angel investing and philanthropy! We caught up with Jennifer for a few questions.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?
That I’m an avid fantasy football player! Some friends started a league seven years ago, and I’m not above bragging that I’ve won the trophy 3 out of the 7 years.

What inspired you to get involved with Arctic Ice Project (formerly Ice911 Research)?
My good friend and fantasy football colleague Carol Sontag invited me to an informational talk a couple of years ago, and I was very impressed with Dr. Leslie Field’s commitment and vision. After I met with Dr. Steve Zornetzer I made my initial commitment.

When your friends/family find out that you donate to our nonprofit what do they typically want to know?
People are overwhelmed by the concept of what climate change will do and what we can possibly do to prevent it. A common question is along the lines of, “What can one small organization do to mitigate this looming disaster”?

What is the most compelling aspect of our work?
The science itself, and the proactive research on a way to protect the Arctic ice, which is key to slowing climate change.

Why do you continue to give to the organization?
To continue to fund research into maintaining Arctic ice. Then hopefully onto the next steps of approval and implementation. The time to do this is now! Not in 5, 10 or 20 years.

What would be your advice to others who might consider supporting us?
My opinion is that there is no way humans will flatten, let alone reduce by necessary amounts, our carbon emissions. We need a parallel path to keeping the ice we have as the Arctic ice is the front line in the climate change battle.

Thank you again, Jennifer! Your generosity has been key to our success thus far.

Most recently, Jennifer agreed to participate as the anchor donor in our COVID-19 Arctic Restoration Gift Campaign to maintain momentum in key aspects of our technical work. Jennifer and our team encourage you to join the campaign.

So far we’ve raised over 60% of our $500,000 campaign fundraising goal. Reaching this campaign goal will fund over 30% of our annual budget. High-impact engagement with Arctic Ice Project brings diverse and vital resources to our mission while also meeting your own personal and social objectives.

Your tax-deductible gift allows us to continue our important research. Our team values every donation!