Saving the ice caps, one bead at a time

Environment > Saving the ice caps, one bead at a time

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We spoke to Dr. Leslie Field about the Arctic Ice Project's work to salvage the world's ice

14 May 2021, 11:09 AM


“He said, "I've been to the year 3000

Not much has changed but they lived underwater”

- Busted

When we think of the term ‘climate change’, chances are the first thing that pops into our heads is melting ice.  

While the conversation about climate change has moved on from greenhouse gases and the ozone layer, the melting of the polar ice caps has been a consistent and worrying issue for the planet for many years. It’s sometimes easy to forget that, with things like polluted oceans and unsustainable fashion, that this is still an incredibly pressing concern.  

The Arctic Ice Project realises that getting polluting countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s why they’re approaching the preservation of the world’s ice from a different angle: restoration.  

We spoke to the project’s founder and CTO Dr. Leslie Field about ice, climate change, and what you can do to help save the arctic. 

Difference Makers: Hi Dr. Field! Tell us about the Arctic Ice Project

Dr. Leslie Field: The Arctic Ice Project’s solution to save the Arctic is simple: spread a thin layer of glass beads on the Arctic surface in strategic locations. These powder-like grains reflect sunlight back into space, reducing surface temperature and stopping the melt! The hollow beads are made of silica, one of the most common materials on the planet, and found to have no harmful impact on wildlife. If they wash ashore, they will act as beach sand. By doing this, the Arctic Ice Project will enhance the Arctic’s natural ability to reflect solar radiation out of the atmosphere, increase the Earth’s reflectivity, and slow the rate of global warming.

What first made you take notice of Climate Change, and why target the Arctic?

I’ve always loved nature and the natural world, but it wasn’t until I saw the Al Gore “Inconvenient Truth” movie that I realised that climate change was going to affect my then-young kids, within their lifetimes, unless someone did something. I had earned BS, MS and PhD degrees in Engineering from MIT and UC Berkeley, and had decades of R&D experience and many patents to my name, but I had not majored in climate. I put “habitable planet” on my to-do list, and started attending meetings on climate at Stanford University, to come up to speed on what was being done, and what else could constructively be done, in climate. I learned that the loss of Arctic reflectivity was a key lever accelerating global warming and destabilising the jet stream and climate throughout the world. 

What inspired you to start the Arctic Ice Project?

I read a lot, and thought a lot, and started testing ways to conserve ice in small containers. After I had done enough research and testing to determine that I had come up with a reasonable , workable approach, I formed a non-profit, Ice911 Research - which has since been renamed as the Arctic Ice Project - a better name for an organisation that is becoming international in scope.  

Do you think individuals have the power to make a difference in the world?

I think it is essential that individuals do their best to make a positive difference in the world.  I had a wonderful mentor at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, in my decade working there, who taught several of us to consider serious world needs from a standpoint of “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”  Once you have that thought as part of your world view, it is difficult to look at major problems that seem to not be getting solved, without knowing that you’ll be striving to reach a way to make a difference to improve that situation.  A wonderful surprise benefit of deciding to take serious action has been working with, and supported by, like-minded people.  It has been one of the real joys, which helps make up for the relentless hard work required to make a difference in this challenging arena.  

What would be the ideal outcome of the Arctic Ice Project?

Ideally, we and collaborators will finish testing, evaluating and developing a safe, practical, and economically affordable material solution, to be deployed by international bodies in limited key strategic areas of the Arctic and polar regions. In time this will slow and reverse climate change, thereby reducing the climate devastation that would otherwise occur, while the world urgently develops and deploys more sustainable energy and transportation solutions.  

Is this idea safe and what are you doing to ensure the safety of this project?  

We have deliberately chosen to develop a solution that can be deployed on the surface in key localisd areas, to preserve and restore an ecological system, restoring a vital part of the Earth’s ecosystem, its icy Arctic heat shield. We have deliberately focused on materials that are already found in nature and all tests that we have conducted have indicated the material is harmless. We continue to test the safety and impacts of these materials, and are eager to start a number of important collaborations, including our planned collaboration with a Norwegian group of marine biologists at SINTEF who will be evaluating material fate and safety.

What would you like to tell the world?

A growing number of experts are now saying that this is the final decade in which we have a chance to make a positive difference in climate. The time for delay is way past over. Sensible climate solutions need support now, to avert the worst of climate devastation while the world urgently transitions to sustainable solutions.  Funding experts report that only 3% of philanthropic dollars go to climate change causes - which is problematic because the climate sector is mainly funded by this limited supply of philanthropic funding. It is past time to urgently prioritise research, funding and policy support to evaluate and develop climate change solutions before it really is too late.  

How can people get involved and help with what you’re doing / Where can we find out more about it? 

Sign up for our webinars and subscribe to our emailing list, read our papers, attend our scientific conference presentations, and follow Arctic Ice Project on social media, via our website Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Share our content, comment on our posts,  and email us your opinions and ideas!  Finally and of great importance, donate if you have the means, as every donation makes a real difference in how quickly we can get our essential work completed.  We need a global effort to ensure this important work  can be fully evaluated and implemented.  

Thanks Dr. Field!

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