Could turning the Arctic into a giant reflector reverse ice loss?


Arctic ice is rapidly melting, and that's really bad news for the entire planet.

Without its shiny ice, the Arctic reflects less sunlight, further heating up and melting even more ice in a vicious cycle. To protect what ice is left — and hopefully redevelop the ice we already lost — a Stanford engineer named Leslie Field wants to sprinkle glass across fast-melting, vulnerable areas of the Arctic, BBC News reports, in order to restore all of that lost reflectivity.

Bead It

Field, the chief technical officer of the Arctic Ice Project, has shown in small tests that Arctic ice covered in tiny, reflective silica beads stays frozen longer thanks to the extra protection. Older, thicker ice that's better at reflecting sunlight has already mostly vanished, so Field wants to target those regions.

"We're trying to break [that] feedback loop and start rebuilding," Field told BBC News.

Delicate System

Field demonstrated that the tiny glass beads are safe for fish in the area, and are too big to be inhaled by people. But experts worry that they could block critical sunlight for photosynthesizing plankton, which serves as the base level of the food chain in the Arctic, or even confuse and starve the plankton's predators.

Like any geoengineering project, there's potential for long term or downstream effects that scientists haven't predicted, but Field argues that she can always adapt over time — and that urgent action is needed to protect the planet.

As she tells BBC News, the beads are "the backup plan I hoped we'd never need."

READ MORE: The daring plan to save the Arctic ice with glass [BBC News]

More on geoengineering: Report: Gene-Hacking Plants and Animals Could Fight Climate Change

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