Semi-submersible wind turbines pump water to thicken sea-ice floes <1km to remediate global warming, methane emission and polar habitat
Our three unintentional climate interventions of: burning fossil fuels, clearing forests, and over-harvesting the oceans are having disastrous effects upon climate, weather-events, ecological diversity & productivity, sea-level, and on both the marine and terrestrial environments. Moreover they, and previously unappreciated tipping points, are in process of engendering a global mass extinction event, the like of which most of humanity living when the noose tightens may not survive.
Seven such tipping points arise in our polar regions. In order of decreasing urgency, these are: methane eruption and ice loss causing runaway global warming; ocean acidification and stratification causing major loss of biodiversity & productivity; reduction in the temperature difference between high and intermediate latitudes causing extreme weather events from the resulting instability of the polar vortex and jet stream, and by threatening to halt the Gulf Stream; and sea-level rise due to glacial melting and water thermal expansion that is likely to inundate all low-lying land.
One proven technology, when used and expanded in several new ways, may be sufficient to avoid the worst of these catastrophes. Ice thickening, by pumping seawater onto sea-ice to thicken it, has been used for over fifty years to strengthen ice sufficiently that it can support drilling platforms or create ice roads and runways over the sea. Such ice thickening of up to ten metres has usually been sufficient for these purposes. However, there is no physical reason why thickening might not extend up to a kilometre and for the ice shields so created to ground themselves firmly onto ‘shallow’ ocean floor. The pumping power required can be sourced from the strong, polar winds by means of semi-submersible wind turbines each mounted upon a disposable, hollow, toroidal, ferro-concrete buoy with telescoping supports for the wind turbine.
Category of the action
What actions do you propose?
Pumping seawater to freeze in a gently sloping cone up to a hundred metres above sea level will generate a lenticular ice shield a kilometre tall and perhaps 3-5 kilometres in diameter. Linked arrays of these ice shields or lenses could then be used as:
- icy caps to prevent the rapid dissolution of frozen methane clathrates;
- a waffled shape to direct and capture residual emitted ocean methane;
- renewable energy platforms;
- barriers to the entry of warm, surface water currents;
- glacial stabilisers;
- walls around designated shipping & wildlife channels;
- roads to carry vehicles, piped gases and wind-generated electricity ashore;
- weirs & dams on polar rivers to increase local ice thickness on sea & land, or to pump otherwise wasted fresh water South;
- remediated polar habitat;
- a method to fertilize stratified polar surface waters with nutrient-rich water from the depths, thereby increasing polar marine biomass;
- a supplementary ‘engine’ to drive desirable ocean circulation;
- support or material for buildings and infrastructure, and
- giant reflectors and radiators to reflect sunlight and to vent the heat released by ice formation into space
The ice shields, particularly when grounded and maintained by further occasional pumping, would be far too thick to disappear over even decades, thereby increasing polar albedo and decreasing mean polar temperatures.
Governments might plan, fund and commission the offshore wind farms, selling or leasing them conditionally to private sector power generators and gas authorities once risks were lowered and each ice array had been completed.
Who will take these actions?
New, offshore wind farms are being approved and commenced every few months. The technology is rapidly advancing and already there are such farms in the North Sea and polar regions. However, international approval or acquiescence will be required for such geoengineering projects as: an ice causeway and bridge linking Eurasia to America via the Bering Strait that is designed to hinder the intrusion of warm surface water into the Arctic Ocean, whilst permitting the movement of deeper, colder water; or projects designed to cover selected areas of the shallower Arctic Ocean with ‘permanent’ ice; or to create permeable barriers to hinder the intrusion of warm, Gulf Stream water into the Arctic.
Where will these actions be taken?
These actions might be taken in any location where ice of thickness over ten centimetres forms on water in winter. However, the most extensive actions are expected to take place in polar regions.
What are other key benefits?
- The formation of ice shields in the Arctic may be expected to reduce the considerable hazards and costs of Arctic Ocean drilling
- The ability to capture methane-rich gas bubbling to the surface in the small, open-water spaces (polynas) between ice shields, to liquefy and pump it to ship or market
- The production of large amounts of renewable electricity for local use or for its distribution to the grid by efficient, high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines laid either on the ice causeways or undersea
- The provision of an extensive system of self-powered, Arctic research stations or facilities on the Arctic Ocean, linked by ice road, air, and often sea to the mainland
- The opportunity of engineering other, safe polar trade routes
- The protection of existing polar and near sea-level infrastructure.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The capital cost of a single, deployed ice shield is comprised mainly of the wind turbine, buoy, telescoping support, anchors, pump, piping, nozzle, sensors, communications equipment, artificial intelligence (AI) system, and their translocation, erection and commissioning costs. The marginal capital cost of an additional commissioned 2.5MW installation is approximately USD$5m (in 2014 dollars) when taken as part of a large array project.
The capital cost of a three-deep, 130 ice shield array to form the two causeways linking the two Diomede islands in the centre of the Bering Strait to each continent might thus be approximately $0.7b. This cost should be more than recouped when the arrays are completed and the wind farms and transport corridors could be conditionally sold or leased to one or more utility companies. Capital costs of a suspension bridge linking the two islands is of the order of $3.5b. An order of magnitude cost estimate of $1.5b is made for the capital costs of the ice roads, covered railway lines, power lines, and causeway infrastructure. No estimates have been attempted for the necessary on-shore linkages.
Ecological, social and ancillary financial costs and benefits, being complex, are to be determined by modelling. Positives are expected to outweigh negatives.
- Design and construct a diesel-powered pilot system and ice shield using a floating metal buoy, to be located in restricted, in-shore polar waters in order to study and refine the ice shield generation process
- Conduct in-shore sea trials using ferro-concrete toroidal buoys and small, non-telescoping wind turbine support systems
- Governance agencies regulate & police deployment and operation
- Design and build a semi-automated demonstration factory to produce full-scale, ferro-concrete buoys in docks with easy access to the Arctic
- Wind turbine manufacturers adapt, design and build wind turbine systems of the two standard sizes suited to the proposed purposes.
- Marine architects and shipbuilders design and construct vessels to facilitate the installation of these wind turbine/ice shield arrays
- Civil engineers design and construct the necessary infrastructures
- Organizations conditionally purchase the wind farms, the transportation & processing facilities, and bases
- Scientific monitoring
Global rollout occurs
Formal references may be found at
at the end of the first Glacial Solutions document. Less formal ones mentioning principal author, year and subject may be found from the supporting documents using Google search.