Friday, July 23, 2010

Entering Phase 2 – Determining the Next Step to Combating Human Driven Climate Change Beyond Emission Reduction

Despite the overwhelming evidence that humans are the primary, heck in a realistic sense, the only major contributor to the recent warming experienced by the global climate in the past 3 decades, very little outside of Europe has been done to curb emissions. The United States Senate has sat on a poor, but something climate bill for over a year. China ‘claims’ they will reduce climate intensity, but still continue to build coal plants at a rate of at least 1 per week and with plenty of growth still remaining for its economy a reduction in climate intensity basically does nothing to significantly reduce total emissions. Australia once in line to be the first major emitter outside of the EU to pass major climate legislation has failed considerably. Other ‘developing’ nations like South Africa, Brazil and Russia seem lackadaisical at best in tackling the human emission problem offering small piecemeal actions like ‘maybe we’ll try to stop some people from cutting down more rainforest.’ Clearly barring a 180 change in policy or another global recession/depression it will be decades before global emissions begin to fall at a consistent pace. Unfortunately such a reality creates a significant environmental feedback problem, especially with relation to the loss of Arctic sea ice.

The rate of Arctic ice loss has already considerably outpaced every single prediction made by every single climate model attempting to predict changes in global temperature based on a wide variety of different emission scenarios. The sad, but not surprising, reality is that each year the Arctic loses more and more ice either at its surface or internally (thickness). Although the more highly publicized consequence of ice melt is a significant increase in sea level, which could threaten to flood coastal cities all over the world, the more important issue is the change in Arctic Ocean albedo. White ice reflects a majority of the sunlight that strikes it, but the darker ocean water absorbs more of the sunlight resulting in a faster increasing ocean temperature. An increasing ocean temperature reduces the total gas permeability of the ocean, which reduces its overall effectiveness as a carbon sink. With ocean absorption accounting for about 65-70% (depending on what exact numbers are used) of total natural carbon sink absorption ensuring a maximum absorption rate of a time is an important consideration. With the best solution to save the Arctic, a dramatic reduction in human-derived greenhouse gas emissions, not being probable in the near-future, much to chagrin of most environmentalists, technology must come to the rescue. In short mankind must develop a technological method(s) to hinder, if not reverse the loss of ice trend. Basically it is time to enter the idea phase and below is one to get the ball rolling.

The use of unmanned robots has gained a new sense of familiarity through their role in helping BP seal the breach in the oil well at Deepwater Horizon. What if these robots could be used, after slight modification, to help lessen the loss of Arctic ice? The modification would proceed as follows: a special rectangular compartment would be attached to the dorsal side of the unit. The box would consist of three insulated regions (the bottom, left and right sides) and one highly conductive region (the top). Inside the box would be a supply of liquid nitrogen that would encompass 75-90% of the total area of the box.

The overall idea is that the liquid nitrogen would conductively cool the water in contact with the top portion of the box where hopefully the Leidenfrost effect would be marginalized due to the top portion of the box acting as the cooling element instead of the liquid nitrogen directly. The insulated portions of the box should eliminate any significant conduction in a non-upward direction, basically making the system a one-dimensional conduction in the y-direction. Although such a method may be initially scoffed at due to the sheer volume difference between the robot and the amount of water that would need to be frozen, one must recall that the point of this device is more to ward off further ice melt over actually rebuilding ice mass.

Although action to reduce emissions is still the primary and a mandatory objective, time is moving away from the point where a reduction in emissions will be the only action required to maintain a comfortable living environment. While the suggested device or some similar may not seem practical, the age of practicality is quickly coming to a close when it comes to the environment. Of course such a device must be tested for safety reasons, part of the reason liquid nitrogen is suggested over something like Freon, for any strategy that causes more damage than benefit is clearly not advisable. Some environmentalist are making a big deal about President Obama convening the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to study and create policy for oceans, but if such a group is going to act like the NOAA, just ‘studying’ and tracking the increasing levels of acidity and ice melt while putting out solutions that amount to reducing emissions then such a group will not be effective. In short this new group, the NOAA, Scripps, or just some group needs to start developing potential technological solutions to the address the problems that are happening in the ocean beyond the mindset that all that can be done is to reduce emissions and hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment