Building Massive Walls on Seafloor Could Save Earth From Impacts of Climate Change

Researcher Michael Wolovick suggests large-scale engineering projects might be the only way to mitigate sea-level rise.
Jessica Miley

Scientists have proposed targeted geoengineering could be the answer to mitigating sea level rise. As the realities of climate change begin to sink in, more and more extreme ways to stop the effects of global warming are being thrown around. Amongst the wildest of these are huge geoengineering proposals.

Geoengineering loosely relates to the study of large-scale engineering projects being used to make changes in ‘natural process. 

Thwaites Glacier may already be lost

In this case, researcher Michael Wolovick examines several different strategies to protect the Thwaites Glacier from runaway melt. Thwaites Glacier is in the West of Antarctica an area under serious threat due to warm water undercutting the ice shelves that extend out over the sea. 

The bedrock close to the glacier slopes downwards as it moves inland causing the glacier to grow taller and increasing its instability. An unstoppable melt of the glacier may already be in effect, that may result in a sea level rise of several feet. 

Wolovick and his team have previously suggested using underwater berms to help prop up glaciers and cut off the flow of warm water. This strategy would, in theory, allow the glacier to regain its strength and density. 

New study models possible geoengineering solutions

The latest research offers other suggestions like “isolated pinning points,” which wouldn’t block warm water but would provide a sort of scaffolding for the glacier to form around.


The study examined the validity of a range of designs through complex modeling, and although some were dismissed immediately, others do show promise. 

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Large geoengineering projects in areas out of sight of human habitation are very appealing as they potentially mean fewer sea walls or other types of solutions for low-level habitat areas. 

But geoengineering is a fairly unregulated field and opens up larger ethical questions about who should benefit from climate change interventionist projects. For instance, while these suggested projects may save low lying countries from flood, they do nothing to stop desertification in West Africa. 

Unregulated field opens can of worms

The other question would be who and how these large projects would be funded and at what larger cost? If the U.S. or Russia were to financially back the project what sort of 'ownership' would that imply for the areas around them? 

Wolovick says he doesn't have all the answers but rather wants his seemingly wild suggestions to be part of a larger and more deliberate conversation about climate change.

“Climate change is not an inevitable apocalypse, climate change is a set of solvable problems.”

“Glacial geoengineering will not be able to save the ice sheets in the long run if the climate continues to warm,” Wolovick said. “In the long run, there are two possible routes that glacial geoengineering could take: on the one hand, it could be a stopgap solution meant to preserve the ice sheets until the climate cools enough that they are once again viable on their own; on the other hand, it could be a managed collapse meant to keep the rate of sea-level rise down while slowly letting the ice sheet waste away. If we emit too much carbon into the atmosphere, then the only viable long-term usage of glacial geoengineering would be to orchestrate a managed collapse.”

“Climate change is not an inevitable apocalypse, climate change is a set of solvable problems,” he adds. “Climate change is a challenge that our species can and will rise to meet.”

Via: Cryosphere

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