Blanketing Greenland’s glaciers against the melt could buy us time

June 26, 2009

In a race against time, American glaciologist and Nobel prize winner Jason Box is thinking big by proposing to cover Greenland’s coastal strip with a blanket to prevent its receding glaciers from melting into the ocean.
The technology has already been applied on a smaller scale in the Austrian Alps by ski resorts using a material designed by Dutch synthetics company TenCate, which says its TopTex material is intended to protect snow and ice against the sun’s solar rays.
“The material reflects solar rays so that their heat doesn’t penetrate the cloth and its texture ensures that snow doesn’t slip away,” TenCate says on its website. It adds using the cloth minimises the possibility of avalanches.
Box and experts from the Byrd Polar Research Center have already covered an area of 8,000 square metres in Greenland with 31 rolls of TenCate’s polypropylene fabric.

TenCate says researchers will collect the results of the study on August 25 and, if they prove positive, Box wants to cover Greenland’s coastal strip, about equal in size to Britain, to minimise rising sea levels and coastal flooding.
While the idea might seem like a desperate, last-ditch bid to protect Greenland’s glaciers while failing to tackle the cause of the melt to which greater effort should be placed, Box says the alternative may be worse.
Two of the largest glaciers in Greenland are at risk of disintegrating, with NASA satellite images suggesting a third of the Petermann glacier could soon break off, he says.
“I’ve got a vision that could save the planet,” Box says on a Discovery channel video. “It is going to be expensive, but when you consider the cost of re-engineering our coastlines this may actually be cheaper.”
The ‘blanket’ solution could therefore buy the globe some vital time.
The question is; who would pay for it?

(Images: top a fjord behind the town of Ilulissat in Greenland August 16, 2007, middle: An iceberg reflected in the calm ocean at the mouth of teh Jakobshavn ice fjord near Ilulisassat, May 15, 2007. Both by Bob Strong/Reuters)

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