Top ED: Creative Solutions, End of Coal Era, and Deadly Avalanches
Scientists are proposing to cover the Arctic in glass to prevent melting, the last coal mine closes in UK, and the connection between climate change and avalanches.
Hot Topics to Cover:
- The daring plan to save the Arctic ice with glass
- Last coal shipment leaves River Tyne
- As Deaths Surge, Scientists Study the Link Between Climate Change and Avalanches
The daring plan to save the Arctic ice with glass
The massive deposits of ice in the Arctic have always acted as a sunlight-reflecting surface that was keeping the Earth cool.
With the ice melting and turning into darker water or soil, the heat is more likely to be absorbed and retained which in turn contributes to the warming climate and even more dissolving ice.
The vicious cycle brings creative solutions to the minds of scientists and entrepreneurs. One proposal put forward by the California-based non-profit Arctic Ice Project appears as daring as it is bizarre: to scatter a thin layer of reflective glass powder over parts of the Arctic, in an effort to protect it from the Sun’s rays and help ice grow back.
Since mature glaciers have a high albedo — an ability to reflect sunlight effectively rather than young ice that forms and melts year by year, and losing such an important factor is going to speed up climate change more than all fossil fuels combined.
Leslie Field, engineer and chief technical office of the organization, decided that if the young ice had extra protection that would keep the sun away in summer, then it could eventually grow into the multilayered structure that could withstand the heat on its own.
She found a manufacturer that turns silica — silicon dioxide — which occurs naturally in most san
d and is often used to make glass into tiny, brightly reflective beads, each one 65 micrometers in diameter — thinner than a human hair, but too large for them to be inhaled and cause lung problems.
The beads are also hollow inside, so they’ll float on water and continue to reflect away sunlight even if the ice begins to melt.
Over the past decade, she and her team have scattered the silica spheres over several lakes and ponds in Canada and the United States, so far with encouraging results.
For instance, in a pond in Minnesota, just a few layers of glass powder made young ice 20% more reflective — enough to delay the melting of the ice. By spring, when the ice in an uncovered area of the pond had completely vanished, there was still nearly a foot of ice in the section treated with the glass beads.
Field plans on distributing the beads strategically to protect some particularly fast-melting, vulnerable areas, like the Fram Strait, a thin passage between Greenland and Svalbard. According to results of a climate model she presented last December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, treating the Fram Strait could lead to large-scale ice regrowth across parts of the Arctic.
Field says that the balls are safe to marine animals due to abundance of silica in nature — it is routinely washed away from weathered rocks via rivers into the sea.
According to some safety testing as part of her 2018 study, the beads, when ingested, caused no ill effects to at least two species — sheepshead minnow fish and northern bobwhite birds.
For now, the proposal is considered controversial to many climate scientists and marine biologists, one concerned with the feasibility and price of the project ($1–5 bn) and the latter is concerned with its effect on the Arctic ecosystem.
Field is planning to test the beads and find solutions to the arguments while other scientists are proposing similar ideas. As for the price, she says, it is nothing compared to the estimated $460bn that the United States incurred in extreme weather and climate disasters between 2017 and 2019 alone.
Last coal shipment leaves River Tyne
The last ever coal shipment left the port of River Tyne headed to Belgium, last Thursday, as the world moves away from coal.
Although the majority of UK’s collieries closed in 1990s, coal was still extracted on a smaller scale in open cast mines in Durham county.
The industry, that was part of many people’s lives throughout generations, has lost its demand as the world reduced its use of coal as fuel.
Now UK is transitioning to low-carbon and sustainable options, many companies sold off their coal stock and decided to stop buying coal.
Gordon Banham, chief executive of Hargreaves Services, which has historically transported coal mined from around the North East, announced that the last shipment of coal from Newcastle would leave the region in February.
“We ceased coal mining in July 2020 and with this last shipment from Newcastle, we have now concluded all material coal related revenue activities. This marks a major transformational step for the Group. We have unlocked the capital from our coal business, and we now look to build sustainable growth across our remaining revenue streams.”
In August 2020, the last standing coal mine in UK closed for good as their applications for expansion have been refused.
As Deaths Surge, Scientists Study the Link Between Climate Change and Avalanches
Avalanches are rapid downward flows of big masses of snow over a steep slope, and happen in mountain regions all over the world. They can break away from adjacent and underlying areas of snow, sliding on layers of ice or dust, slick grass or even off a roof.
Cold powder snow avalanches speed down mountains at up to 100 mph, with an airblast that can destroy structures and knock trucks of roads. Wet snow avalanches can creep at a snail’s pace, uprooting giant trees and dragging along house-sized boulders.
During the first week of February, avalanches killed 14 people across the United States, the highest weekly avalanche death toll in more than 100 years.
Halfway through the season, 31 people have died across the nation this winter — more than the annual average of 27 deaths.
The sudden onset of danger was caused by the rising temperatures and climate change in the region, instigating harsh winter storms and making snow layers less cohesive.
Due to the pandemic, socially isolated individuals have found solace and danger in winter storms.
Some social psychologists have even begun asking whether it’s possible that global warming plus a global pandemic equals a recipe for deadly avalanche accidents.
Climate change has increased the intensity of snow storms and the risk of avalanches. Recent studies from Montana and Switzerland analyzed scars on tree rings left behind by avalanches and concluded that their overall number increased threefold since 1920s. Some of the biggest avalanche cycles on record in Switzerland happened just in the last four years, coinciding with some of the warmest years ever in the high country of the Swiss Republic.
The big avalanches of concern for engineers and planners are affected by release volume, snowpack structure and temperature, all of which are affected by climate change, added Colorado-based avalanche consultant Chris Wilbur.
Projected warming, increased precipitation intensity and rain-on-snow events “could significantly impact the extent, behavior, and predictability of snow avalanches … which are the most deadly natural hazard in the state [of Alaska],” said Gabriel Wolken, manager of the Climate & Cryosphere Hazards Program with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
As avalanche-related deaths have surged across the country, experts have begun probing possible links between climate, the pandemic and snow slides, thus increasing the research and mitigation efforts.