Thousands of barges could save Europe from deep freeze

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It is ironic that one consequence of global warming is that Europe might plunge into a deep freeze. This possibility stimulated an unusual research project at the University of Alberta.

Dr. Peter Flynn, the Poole Chair in Management for Engineers in the U of A Department of Mechanical Engineering, has studied whether down-welling ocean currents can carry more dissolved carbon into the deep ocean. He learned they can’t, but in the course of this research he found some evidence that the ocean currents that bring warm water to the oceans off northern Europe may be weakening.

The results of the research have been published recently in the journal Climatic Change.

“The current is like an ocean conveyor belt,” Flynn explained. “It starts in the north Atlantic, where down-welling, cold, arctic water flows south at the bottom of the ocean, and then warm, tropical water flows north to fill in the vacuum created by the cold water, and this warm water helps ensure a mild climate in northern Europe,”

The melting of fresh water ice due to global warming can reduce the flow of the down-welling current, and a study published recently in the journal Nature by researchers at the University of Southhampton in England reported evidence of weakening down-welling currents.

Flynn and a graduate student evaluated seven different methods to enhance down-welling currents. They found one way was far more cost effective than the others: making thicker sea ice by pumping salty ocean water on top of ice sheets.

They envisioned more than 8,000 barges moving into the northern ocean in the fall, speeding the initial formation of sea ice by pumping a spray of water into the air, and then, once the ice is formed, pumping ocean water on top of it, trapping the salt in the ice and reaching a thickness of seven meters.

In the spring, water would continue to be pumped over the ice to melt it, forming a vast amount of cold, salty water that sinks and adds to the down-welling current to re-strengthen it.

The estimated cost is about $50 billion.

“When we first did this study we thought this idea was way too expensive–we were shocked by the numbers,” Flynn said. “But let’s say conservatively that there are 100 million people in Europe affected by this current. Fifty billion dollars would come to 500 dollars per person, and we don’t think that is an unreasonable price if the glaciers are at your backdoor and your way of life is disappearing.”

Flynn emphasizes that his group does not propose this scheme as the first or best choice, since all geo-engineering projects have a risk of unforeseen circumstances.

“The best way to deal with global warming is to deal with the causes, fossil carbon in the atmosphere, not the symptoms,” he said. “However, if our efforts to control CO2 levels in the atmosphere fail and we reach a crisis, we can contemplate emergency action.”

From University of Alberta


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8 thoughts on “Thousands of barges could save Europe from deep freeze”

  1. That’s an interesting idea. The idea of sinking crop residue already produced by farmers into the deep cold ocean has been suggested in a Wired article, “Confessions of a CO2 Composter” in 2000.

  2. It is surprising little known that coal power stations emit more radiation than modern nuclear plants. Whilst a failure at a nuclear plant is obviously far more dangerous than one at a coal plant, nuclear is far more environmentally friendly than it is allowed to convince people it is. Waste storage is the issue, at coal/gas/oil installations the waste goes into the atmosphere contributing to the problems of the whole planet. Whereas nuclear waste just needs a relatively small storage location, which is the problem, too many fear what they do not understand. Personally, I favour every household having a small (1-3KVA ish) wind turbine this distribution acrosss millions of locations will provide resilience and reduce the wind doesnt always blow problem, add in other renewables and you can reduce the core generating requirement. Nuclear is an important part of the solution for the next 20 years but politically it is being pushed away.

  3. 1000 years? The fuel for current, inherent safe, reactors will last more like 100 years (or less) for a full switch. Experimental breeding reactors are more expensive and more polluting and much more expensive. And they do not exist yet in quantity.

    Moreover, when decommissioning is accounted for, a real cost, nuclear energy becomes very expensive. Radioactive materials are dangerous to your health.

    And the waste problem is actually NOT political. Except if you believe the world can end after you are gone.

    Windscale (or however it is called currently) has dumped more than 1 cubic meters of plutonium in the Irish sea. The outlet of the Le Havre plant has been closed to the public because the area has become highly radioactive. The plant itself cannot be approached without protective gear anymore.

    Really only a limited option.

  4. Why not just grow tons of grass and bury compressed grass bales instead? Nature has a nice way of converting CO2 into solid carbon…and this is pretty damn stable provided you don’t burn it.

  5. The world has about 1000 years of nuclear fuel. Coal and Oil has only been big for the last 250 years.

    The waste problem is political, no technical. The French reprocess and glassify their waste every day.

    Conservation and renewables supporting nuclear energy is the best path.

  6. What do we do with the nuclear waste?
    How does the associated heat will effect the efficiency of the whole project?
    How much nuclear fuel do we have? – Not for ever that is for sure!

    We need to find ways to maintain and higher our standard of living/quality of life without using more and more energie per capita!

    I wonder if people spend the $500 investing in insulating their homes maybe the net effect would be bigger.

  7. Yes, we need to stop putting carbon into the atmosphere. I hope you weren’t planning on powering your ‘barges’ with fossil fuels. Solar won’t work under 7 meters of ice. This leaves nuclear power. This is a ‘band-aid’ approach to fixing a broken limb.

    Deep well CO2 injection or nuclear power are the only two proactive ways to reduce global CO2 emissions.

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