Saving Arctic Ice • Dr. Leslie Field

(Founder and CTO, Arctic Ice Project || CA USA)

“I hadn’t really understood how bad climate change would become until seeing the movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ It made me realize this was going to affect my kids, here in California, during their lifetime. It wasn’t going to be some far away impact. So I put ‘habitable planet’ on my to-do list, and set out to determine how I might be able to make a positive difference. It helped that I had just become a Consulting Professor at Stanford, and was able to learn from meetings, classes, and experts there.

We need to transition to sustainable solutions, like solar energy — but even with political will, support, and money, these transitions take time. I decided to develop a climate intervention that could slow our crash off the cliff. In the movie, Al Gore talked about the ice-albedo feedback effect, a feedback loop where the melting of Arctic ice reduces its ability to reflect incoming solar radiation in the summer, which leads to even faster ice melting. I chose to focus on this, because even back in 2006, 20% of global temperature rise was already attributed to the ice-albedo feedback effect.

I found and tested many types of safe materials to replace some of the Arctic’s lost reflectivity. Our current choice is hollow glass microspheres using silica (silicon dioxide), a natural material occurring in sand and most rocks on earth. Silica is a main ingredient in glass. By spraying this material onto thin ice we can increase its reflectivity, to potentially help preserve Arctic ice through the summer so it can rebuild multi-year, thick ice. I am totally committed to the principle of ‘do no harm’ — if we are serious about this, we have to make sure we don’t make anything worse! So we are working with marine biologists to make sure our materials don’t have negative implications.

We are actively testing and researching this in Minnesota, and hopefully soon in Greenland. The recent report from the UN IPCC shows us that we need to hurry. Through this approach we could buy some much-needed time, up to about 15 years, to urgently achieve climate goals.”