The rapid decline in Arctic sea ice poses numerous problems, affecting not only the Arctic region but also global climate and ecosystems.
Sea ice serves as a reflective surface, bouncing sunlight back into space. As sea-ice vanishes, the dark ocean surface can absorb more of the Sun’s energy, which accelerates warming.
So the researchers want to thicken it to stop it melting away.
A team from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Climate Repair is currently engaged in a project to thicken enough sea-ice to slow or even reverse the melting already seen.
While sea ice itself doesn’t contribute to sea-level rise because it’s already floating, its decline contributes indirectly. Loss of sea ice can accelerate the melting of land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, which do contribute to sea-level rise.
Many species in the Arctic rely on sea ice for habitat, breeding, and foraging grounds, including polar bears, seals, and various bird species. Declining sea ice threatens their survival by reducing their habitat and altering their food sources.
Sea ice provides a platform for algae and plankton to thrive, forming the base of the Arctic marine food web. As sea ice declines, this habitat is disrupted, affecting the entire ecosystem, from small organisms to larger predators.
“The ultimate goal of the Arctic experiment is to thicken enough sea-ice to slow or even reverse the melting already seen,” says Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, whose team at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Climate Repair is behind the project.
“We don’t actually know enough to determine whether this is a good idea or bad idea,” Dr Fitzgerald told the BBC.
The researchers have been braving bitter conditions in Cambridge Bay, a tiny Canadian village in the Arctic Circle.
Scientists say it is about -30C with a strong wind, which brings the temperature to -45C with wind chill factor.
They are drilling a hole in the sea-ice that naturally forms in winter, and pumping around 1,000 litres of seawater per minute across the surface.
Exposed to the cold winter air, this seawater quickly freezes, helping to thicken the ice on top. The water also compacts the snow. As fresh snow acts as a good insulating layer, now ice can also form more easily on the underside in contact with the ocean.
Scientists engaged in the project have already seen the ice thicken by a few tens of centimetres across their small study area. The ice will be monitored by locals in the months ahead.
But it’s still far too early to say whether their approach can actually make a difference to the rapid decline in Arctic sea-ice.
Scientists caution that the Arctic Ocean is likely to be effectively free of sea-ice by the end of summer at least once by 2050, and possibly even sooner. One way to probably delay it occurring is by reducing global emissions.
Undoubtedly, the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice has far-reaching consequences for the climate, ecosystems, and human societies, highlighting the urgent need for concerted global action to mitigate climate change and protect the Arctic region.