Scientists Say Refreezing Earth’s Poles Is Feasible and Remarkably Cheap

Planet Earth Panoramic Arctic

According to new research, refreezing the poles by reducing incoming sunlight would be both feasible and remarkably cheap.

Earth’s poles are warming several times faster than the global average. In fact, record-smashing heatwaves were reported earlier this year in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Melting ice and collapsing glaciers at high latitudes would accelerate sea level rise around the planet. Fortunately, it would be both feasible and remarkably cheap to refreeze the poles by reducing incoming sunlight. This is according to new research published on September 15, 2022, in IOP Publishing’s Environmental Research Communications.

Scientists laid out a possible future geoengineering program whereby high-flying jets would spray microscopic aerosol particles into the atmosphere at latitudes of 60 degrees north and south – approximately Anchorage and the southern tip of Patagonia. If injected at a height of 43,000 feet / 13,000 meters (above airliner cruising altitudes), these aerosols would slowly drift poleward, shading the surface beneath slightly.

“There is widespread and sensible trepidation about deploying aerosols to cool the planet,” notes lead author Wake Smith, “but if the risk/benefit equation were to pay off anywhere, it would be at the poles.” Smith is a lecturer at Yale University and a Senior Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School.

Particle injections would be performed seasonally in the long days of the local spring and early summer. Both hemispheres could be serviced by the same fleet of jets, ferrying to the opposite pole with the change of seasons.

A tabular iceberg floating within Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Credit: IOP Publishing

Pre-existing military air-to-air refueling tankers such as the aged KC-135 and the A330 MMRT don’t have enough payload at the required altitudes. However, newly designed high-altitude tankers would prove much more efficient. A fleet of roughly 125 such tankers could loft a payload sufficient to cool the regions poleward of 60°N/S by 2°C per year. This would be enough to return them close to their pre-industrial average temperatures. Annual costs are estimated at $11 billion. This is less than one-third the cost of cooling the entire planet by the same 2°C magnitude and just a tiny fraction of the cost of reaching net zero emissions.

“Game-changing though this could be in a rapidly warming world, stratospheric aerosol injections merely treat a symptom of climate change but not the underlying disease. It’s aspirin, not penicillin. It’s not a substitute for decarbonization,” says Smith.

Cooling at the poles would provide direct protection for only a small portion of the planet. However, the mid-latitudes should also experience some temperature reduction. Since less than 1% of the global human population lives in the target deployment zones, a polar deployment would entail much less direct risk to most of humanity than a global program.

“Nonetheless, any intentional turning of the global thermostat would be of common interest to all of humanity and not merely the province of Arctic and Patagonian nations,” adds Smith.

In summary, this current study is just a small and preliminary step towards understanding the costs, benefits, and risks of undertaking climate intervention at high latitudes. It provides further reason to believe that such tools could prove useful both in preserving the cryosphere near the poles and slowing global sea level rise.

Reference: “A subpolar-focused stratospheric aerosol injection deployment scenario” by Wake Smith, Umang Bhattarai, Douglas G MacMartin, Walker Raymond Lee, Daniele Visioni, Ben Kravitz and Christian V Rice, 15 September 2022, Environmental Research Communications.
DOI: 10.1088/2515-7620/ac8cd3


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  • Melting of the poles is exacerbated because of the loss of permafrost. Once the permafrost is lost, it takes extenuating cooling periods for the permafrost to be regained. There's a saying, something about 'The best laid plans of Mice and Men'.

    Scientists want to cloud the atmosphere over the poles with dust, all in an effort to reduce ocean level rise. Well, folks: Since the peak of the last ice age, ocean levels have risen 100 meters. In an effort to reduce a possible 1/10th of an additional meter rise, scientists want to risk triggering another ice age; possibly resulting in significant ocean level declines. If you think there's a shortage of fresh water today, just wait until scientists trigger another ice age.

    In case you aren't aware of this, global temperature increases due to CO2 in the atmosphere is less than half of what scientists claim it is. The temperature increases is most massive near the poles. Why? Loss of permafrost. A 100% eliminating of anthropomorphic CO2 emissions won't stop global warming.

    Ocean levels always rise (and lower). Human civilizations, every thousand years or more, must move, either closer to or further away from oceanic shorelines. As the last ice age encroached across the globe, ancient civilizations had to move ever closer to the receding shorelines. At the peak of the last ice age, ocean depths were one hundred meters lower, and miles away from where their earlier shorelines had been. The inhabitants of ancient civilizations had no idea of what transpired the thousand years prior, let alone ten thousand years prior.

    After the last ice age's peak, ocean levels began to rise. Those civilizations which had migrated after the previously receding ocean shorelines were now facing massive global flooding. Today's society throws a fit having to face a possible 1/10th of a meter rise in ocean levels. After the peak of the last ice age, ancient civilizations were confronted with a gradual 100 meter rise in ocean levels, and you think you have it bad.

    Nature does what it does. Mankind needs to learn to adapt to it, not change it. Go ahead and try to alter nature. Ten thousand years from now, I'm going to sit back and laugh while you try to figure out why ocean levels are 100 meters lower. Your ocean front property, now miles from the ocean shoreline, will be worthless.

    • "In an effort to reduce a possible 1/10th of an additional meter rise".
      You obviously know nothing about climate science. Greenland's ice alone would cause the oceans to rise 3 feet. If the ice from Greenland, Antarctica, and melting glaciers were to melt, and it is happening very quickly now, sea level rise would be 230 feet and all the coastal cities of the world would be gone. This would end human civilization. China, the USA, and Europe are currently experiencing severe drought. This is an ominous sign and drought of this magnitude was not predicted by the climate models. Fresh water is quickly disappearing and crops are rapidly being damaged. This is because convection from extreme heat is evaporating clouds before they can produce rain. Climate change is now abrupt, exponential, and irreversible. There is no time. Scientist's predictive models were deeply flawed and did not consider tipping points or the exponential function. Time is running short for homo sapiens and we are lucky if a single human being is still standing in 2030 at the current response level. Injection of aerosols to cool the planet is one of many measures humans must implement now. The only other option is near term extinction of the human race and all life on Earth. Read the science. Read the aggregate of peer reviewed scientific literature and then formulate an intelligent and wise opinion.

    • I do not think that aerosols in the high atmosphere will work in keeping the poles from melting.
      MOST of the heat that is melting the poles is coming from ocean currents that are transporting heat to the poles, especially the Arctic. That is, the Arctic ice is being melted from below, not from the air directly.
      It would not stop the melting of glaciers where they meet the sea, or the Antarctic Ice shelves sitting on the sea.
      Their presence is important in keeping the ice on land from sliding into the ocean and melting. They will still melt away, and the ice they hold back will still slip into the sea and melt.
      Therefore, aerosols sprayed at the poles will NOT work, IMO.
      Nice try, though.

  • What hubris! I'm left with the impression that these scientists don't understand that, unlike where they live, the sun does not get directly overhead at the poles! Therefore, clouds do not provide the same cooling effect as passing cumulus clouds at mid-latitudes when they interpose between the sun and and the ground. At the northern Summer Solstice, the sun will reach a maximum angle of 23 1/2 deg above the horizon at the north pole at noon and be on the horizon at midnight, and be about 47 deg at the Arctic Circle at noon. Thus, even with complete coverage, much of the potential sunlight will come in under the high, artificial aerosol coverage, on the edges. Of course, what they are proposing would be completely ineffective during the 6-month Winter night. It would take dense, low-level clouds or fog with continuous coverage to completely 'protect' the Arctic.

    The authors remark, "This enhanced warming of the Arctic results from a combination of processes including: reduction in snow- and sea ice-albedo; increased downward longwave heating due to increased Arctic cloud cover..." Actually, there is good reason to believe that the albedo effect is overstated because specular reflection off water can exceed the diffuse reflection off snow. [ ] Scattering the light off the artificial aerosols could actually decrease the specular reflection flux and increase surface absorption, giving an effect opposite to that desired. The claimed "increased Arctic cloud cover" seems contrary to their mental model. Will their artificial aerosol not similarly reflect sunlight and upwelling LW IR back to the surface?

    Is it prudent to trust the judgement of researchers who leave doubt about their mastery of the astronomical relationships between the sun and Earth and apparently know nothing of the optics of specular reflection?

    • You are obviously not a scientist and have obviously not read the aggregate of the peer reviewed scientific literature. I'm sure the scientists studying this have considered all the factors, including the most glaringly obvious; the angles at which the sun hits the Earth. People are generally deluded about climate change and perceive it at this slow linear process that will take decades and decades. This is not true. Climate change is is an ever accelerating experiential reality. China, the USA, and Europe are now experiencing severe drought. Fresh water is quickly disappearing all around the world. So are crops and human habitat. Multiple tipping points have been breached including the permafrost, which is now belching methane into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Time is running short for homo sapiens on Earth and everyone that actually reads and understands the science, are now getting their affairs in order. There is no adaptation when natural systems are not generating rain because of severe convection born of extreme heat. This won't be the first mass extinction but it will be the last for human beings. The situation is much more dire and ominous than the public knows and/or understands. We'd be lucky if anyone was still standing in 2030 and those scientists that have dedicated their entire lives to researching the climate give us another 3-4 years tops.

      • "Obviously?" Really! How would you know? If you were a scientist, you would be able to point out the things I wrote that are wrong. You didn't because you can't, meaning you aren't qualified to judge my education and experience. Instead, you provide a 'Reader's Digest' version of all the alarmist propaganda. Keep thinking that the people who you look up to have all the answers and are infallible. You will deserve the results.

  • There was a time, within the lives of most who are reading this, when there was great concern about "acid rain." This was the result of sulfur and sulfides in coal being converted into SO2 when burned to make electricity, which subsequently became sulfuric acid upon reacting with water. Yet, these researchers are (along with others) proposing to purposely create SO2 and inject it into the stratosphere. (Will it impact ozone?) Apparently, they haven't heard the old saying, "What goes up must come down." Such schemes are, at best, myopic. At worst, a step backwards and highly irresponsible.

  • with the actual problem. CO2 in the atmosphere. Concentrate on ways to reduce CO2, remove it, before doing something that could possibly cause irreparable harm to the planet.

    • "Something that could possibly cause irreparable harm to the planet". you see the horrible fires that are destroying crops and human habitat all around the world right now? There is so much C02 in the atmosphere now that climate change is now abrupt, exponential, and irreversible. Even if humans stopped all C02 emissions today, the harm is already done. C02 levels are now at 422 PPM. When I was growing up, C02 was at 290 PPM. The whole world is experiencing severe drought. Fresh water is quickly disappearing all around the world and so are crops. Without water and food and livable temperatures, humans are toast. It won't be long now. Maybe 3-4 years. I would encourage everyone to read and understand the peer reviewed scientific literature on climate change. This is a time to get your affairs in order. You think the climate and the world are stable constants. They are not. Climate change has caused extinctions in the past and human civilizations have come and gone.

      • Mark Twain famously said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so.”

        If your claims were true, we would be in trouble. However, ...

    • Umm...there is already an aerosol problem. It's called the aerosol masking effect and it is the only thing that has kept us alive until now. As C02 is emitted from power plants and factories, so are sulfur aerosols or particulates. These aerosols mask global warming because they reflect sunlight back into space. If all industrial activity were to cease right now, the aerosols would fall from the sky within 7 days and we would lose the protective effects. Global average temperatures would quickly rise by another 2 deg C...and we would cook to death. It's astounding how obtuse, mislead, and ignorant people are about the current state of the climate. Put it this way, scientists that have been studying the issue their entire lives are now writing their wills and getting their affairs in order. Climate change is now abrupt, exponential, and irreversible.

  • 👍 Thumbs up for Capital Driven Science. Now... Climb on it and go for a ride. Short-sighted? Myopic? Doesn't quite express the condition. BLIND is closer to the point. Apparently, they never heeded the warnings about putting one's hand in one's pants too often, albeit one is "only" pocketing the proceeds of a Command performance in the Circus of Profitable (and dubious) Science.
    There is a term which aptly applies...
    Oh... Got it! JERK-OFFS.
    Dance! Monkey! Dance!

  • A giant array of adjustable space umbrellas at the poles are a much better option, and 100% controllable if there are unintended results. More expensive, but worth the cost if it means we can remotely adjust the amount of sunlight hitting the poles from a JPL work station.

  • Geoengineering cannot possibly work BECAUSE the stupidist will take any such effort as permission to go on being stupid, because, "Problem solved!". And also because you don't know what you are doing and will screw up monumentally and kill everything.

    • The people who have an inflated view of their intelligence think that they are the brightest bulb on the tree and want everyone to follow their advice. The problem is, they are probably wrong, and there is nothing they could do to compensate for the loss of millions of lives and the collapse of the world economy as their poorly thought out schemes reveal how things actually work.

  • It is remarkably stupid, arrogant and unwise. It is industrialization using science-based technology that caused global warming in the first place. So far most technology only contributed to environmental harm. The proposed experiment can have existential consequences for life on earth if it goes wrong (and it most likely will).

IOP Publishing

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