Our Approach

Technology 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.

View some of our recent work in developing ideal materials for arctic ice restoration.

Fast Facts

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.

Field research

Ice-Truthing

We are currently testing and monitoring various materials on ice in pools at our test sites in Utqiagvik, Alaska, and Lake Elmo, Minnesota. This process is extremely important for our team, allowing us to gather data on a material’s effectiveness under real-world sun, wind, rain and snow conditions, and to determine the materials that will provide the best performance in larger-scale field tests.

Expanding Our Testing

We plan to expand our testing to the world-renowned Sea-Ice Experimental Research Facility at U Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and to conduct additional field testing on sea ice in Svalbard, Norway in collaboration with prominent Norwegian polar experts and research institutions.
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Ecotoxicology, Fate, and Safety

The first tenet of Arctic Ice Project’s mission statement is “First, do no harm.” It is of utmost importance in developing methods for climate change mitigation to ensure that no harm is done to the environment in the attempts to restore ice and that there are no unintended consequences. To that end Arctic Ice Project is undertaking detailed studies on the ecotoxicological effects of their technologies, through modeling, and environmental fate studies, and ecotoxicological research.

Mitigating Risks to the Ecosystem

Large-scale field testing will be implemented only when sufficient data is available to ensure any risks to the ecosystem have been mitigated.

CLIMATE MODELING

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.

 

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Here is some of our most recent research in climate modeling presented at the AGU Conference in December 2020.

Emerging Technologies

We utilize Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), a system developed by NASA, to measure the readiness of specific technologies for implementation.

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.

Exploring New Research Areas

In addition to our current projects, a portion of our budget is devoted to exploring new areas of research to continually develop the technology funnel for improved methods of ice restoration. These initiatives may look at both new technologies for ice preservation as well as new areas to apply existing technologies, for instance, land ice restoration.
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