Our ApproachTechnology Focus Areas
MATERIALS AND DEPLOYMENT
The most promising solution to date, currently at Technology Readiness Level 3 (of 8), is a novel materials approach that proposes to deploy a thin layer of very small hollow glass microspheres across strategically chosen small regions of the Arctic to improve the reflectivity of sea ice, mimicking natural processes to reflect solar energy out of our atmosphere. We chose this type of material after considerable research and testing using laboratory and small-scale field tests to determine what characteristics gave best results and were safe, practical and stable to deploy. The resulting solution, strategically applied in the Arctic, can give the world an opportunity to buy up to 15 more years to decarbonize the economy and draw down GHGs from the atmosphere.
The material we are evaluating is made from an amorphous glass primarily composed of silicon dioxide (“silica”). Silica is an inert compound made of two of the earth’s most abundant materials: silicon and oxygen. The mass of Earth’s crust is 59% silica, the main constituent of more than 95% of the known rocks, and is the major constituent of sand. Ocean water already contains a large amount of silica.
In addition to developing the most effective reflective materials, in tandem we are exploring ways to deploy our solutions. Our current work with the Harvey Mudd College Clinic program looks at the aerodynamics of hollow glass microspheres and air dispersal from large ships. Other approaches to dispersal under consideration include dispersing the materials on young “grease ice” to nucleate, grow, and increase albedo, and using Arctic ocean currents to spread the material in the selected strategic area.
The material we are evaluating can be thought of as a kind of small, fine, white beach sand that floats. In a sense, the material is a lot like snow. The reflective beads stick to ice and water on contact, and their chemical composition ensures they don’t attract oil-based pollutants.
The material is made from a glass which is mostly silicon dioxide (“silica”). Silica is a compound made of two of the earth’s most abundant materials: silicon and oxygen. The mass of Earth’s crust is 59% silica, the main constituent of more than 95% of the known rocks, and is the major constituent of sand.
Expanding Our Testing
Ecotoxicology, Fate, and Safety
Mitigating Risks to the Ecosystem
Climate models executed through research partnerships with experts in modeling and Arctic albedo help us translate the small-scale laboratory and field test results into what the potential climate impacts could be for implementing this climate restoration solution in strategic areas of the Arctic. Climate modeling lets us work through complicated problems in advance through simulations, helping us understand the Arctic’s complex system interactions. The models also allow us to test climate theories and solutions so we can best predict how the Arctic region’s environment will change over time. Importantly, the modeling allows us to evaluate impacts local to any proposed treatment area, as well as to predict any farther-reaching effects.
It has been observed that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic, and that, for instance, the recent shifts in Arctic conditions have led to increased droughts and fire risks in the Western US. Conversely, climate modeling allows us to predict how much of such droughts and fire risks in the Western US could be mitigated by rebuilding Arctic reflectivity, to the world’s benefit. The climate modeling also lets us predict any adverse impacts that might have increased the likelihood of occurring in some region of the world, so that policymakers and international bodies like the UN that consider the good of the entire world, can assess which scenarios show clearly that the benefits to the world would outweigh any predicted risks – and which scenarios should be avoided.
Our approach takes a deliberately light touch, treating the smallest possible areas, with the smallest possible amounts of material, for the maximum benefit at the lowest cost and risk, and to live by our most important principle of first do no harm.
Here is some of our most recent research in climate modeling presented at the AGU Conference in December 2020.
Our use of Hollow Glass Microspheres (HGMs) to restore ice rests at a TRL of 3 given that proof of concept has been established. In parallel, we are constantly reviewing and researching other potential ice preservation technologies to be sure our work includes the most promising technical approaches.