Artificial Wetlands, Super-Trees and Glacier Blankets: Oh My!

In its latest issue, Popular Science champions genetic and geo-engineering as strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on the planet and save the environment in a series of articles collectively referred to as "Duct Tape Methods to Save the Earth." The proposed schemes range from a plan to use huge blankets to wrap thawing glaciers in the Alps to using genetically modified tree plantations to replace thinning rainforests.

We've often been skeptical of the feasibility and long-term viability of geo-engineering in the past and certainly aren't big fans of genetic engineering. Having said that, we thought several of these schemes worth mentioning, were it not only for their sheer creativity, since similar ideas may very well be implemented in the near future as a series of quick fixes to our deteriorating environment (though the jury is still out on their potential for sucess).

Predicting that the Alps alone will lose up to three quarters of its glaciers by 2050, the writers propose a scheme in which the thawing glaciers would be wrapped in football-field-size synthetic colds that would keep the cold in and the heat out. One company, Fritz Landolt, has already invented such a material: the Ice Protector.

A lightweight dual-layer composite, its top layer consists of polyester to reflect ultraviolet light while the bottom, composed of polypropylene, is a polymer that is often used to block heat. Its purpose is to prevent a glacier's top snow layer and permanent ice base from melting in the summer. At a cost of $12 million per square mile, the material has already proved successful in a small pilot in which its use on the Gurschen glacier resulted in 80% less melt than surrounding snow and ice two years in a row.

One consequence of global climate chance has been the warming of oceans which many climate scientists predict could lead to the intensification of tropical storms in subsequent years. Phil Kithil, the CEO of Atmocean, has suggested cooling down to surface water to prevent storms from growing by installing 1.6 million ocean-cooling "pumps" into the Gulf of Mexico.

Anchored to the seafloor, this 1,000-mile-long series of coolers could putatively turn category-4 storms into category 3s and, in turn, category 3s into 2s. Some initial trials resulted in Kithil's devices temporarily lowering surface temperatures by up to 7ºF, a potentially significant finding since models show that even a 1ºF could reduce hurricane winds by 5%.

Inventor Bruce Kania has proposed to reverse the decline of wetlands, caused in part by encroaching residential developments and widespread pollution, by building artificial archipelagos of small- to large-size islands out of recycled plastic and foam. Once planted with habitat-specific vegetation, they could then be set afloat in locales where natural wetlands were once prominent.

To recreate these wetlands, Kania used layers of polymer mesh bonded with adhesive foam and carpeted them with sod and wetland vegetation. Over time, growing plants weave their roots through the plastic layers to the water below where microbes can then cling onto them and start colonies, forming a layer of "biofilm" that helps to purify the water and oxygenate it. He has already applied his "BioHavens" project to algae-infested ponds on his farm, where he was able to filter fertilizer runoff and suppress the growth of harmful algal blooms. Now around 3,000 of these projects can be found floating in different ecosystems around the world.

So what are your thoughts? Do these schemes seem feasible and viable on a global scale or are they just short-term quick fixes?

Via ::Popular Science: Future of the Environment (magazine)

See also: ::Geoengineering: A (Very) Risky Proposition Says Study, ::Wild and Crazy Ideas to Cool the Planet

Tags: Genetic Engineering | Geoengineering | Glaciers | GMO

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