Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Rebuilding Antarctica

PostedSeptember 29, 2019

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Lede: Antarctica is melting faster than expected, so a U-N report released this week says, unless something is done, sea levels will likely rise higher by the end of this century than previous estimates. Some scientists say it may be time to think of radical solutions.

Randy Atkins: German scientists recently published a plan for rebuilding the highly unstable West Antarctic ice sheet. Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says his team’s calculations show that, if combined with large worldwide carbon emissions reductions, a massive snowmaking project there could help stop the melt.

Anders Levermann: I don’t have any doubt that you could do it from an engineering point of view, but that has to be a lot of engineering, a lot of innovation.

Randy Atkins: And it would be costly. Ocean water would have to be desalinized, pumped up, and distributed inland…then sprayed through snow cannons – all at tremendously cold temperatures. The energy needed would be enormous, though Levermann says there is enough carbon-free wind power in Antarctica. But it would also turn a pristine place into an industrial zone.

Anders Levermann: Do we want to save New York, New Orleans, Hong Kong, or do we want to save Antarctica?

Randy Atkins: Levermann says those are the type of tradeoffs we need to start thinking about now. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.