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Giant, floating umbrella design restores Arctic ice

Jerzy Shedlock
An American architect has won first place in a design journal’s competition for a building plan that’s intended to reverse the melting of Arctic ice caps. This summer, so far, the region's ice extant is declining at a near-average rate. Derek Pirozzi design courtesy Evolo

An American architect has won first place in a design journal’s competition for a building plan that’s intended to reverse the melting of Arctic ice caps. His design of giant, floating umbrellas that could potentially restore ice by harvesting and freezing the water underneath comes at a time when transportation and energy giants, as well as the governments of the world’s economic leaders, aim to take advantage of a potentially navigable Arctic region.

According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center’s (NSIDC) most recent Arctic sea ice analysis, the region’s ice extent declined at a near-average rate through May, but overall, it remained below average when compared to the 1979-2000 average -- there’s less ice than in the past.  

The analysis mentions Alaska’s frigid temperatures through May, even naming the report “Un-baked Alaska.”

Verticality near the North Pole

“Polar Umbrella” by Derek Pirozzi has won eVolo magazine’s 2013 Skyscraper Competition, which was established in 2006 to recognize innovative ideas for vertical living.

While Pirozzi’s design potentially could keep northern sea routes closed, the giant umbrellas are just a concept at this point. The design would allow for the large structures to operate like a buoy, floating amongst the ice, the architect told Wired.

The umbrellas theoretically reduce the surface’s heat gain. As envisioned, the interior of the structures would house desalinization plants, solar powered research facilities and ecotourism attractions.

Placed in the fastest melting areas of the Arctic, and Antarctic, the large buoys would provide shade and absorb ultraviolent rays, converting the rays into energy instead of allowing them to melt the ice. The structure’s design allows the umbrella to be angled to catch the max amount of sunshine, and Pirozzi contends the surrounding area’s temperature would decrease by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The current melt

According to numerous scientific intuitions, like the Polar Ice Center and NSIDC, the ice around the North Pole is going away. There’s a long-term trend of declining ice, which can be categorized in two ways: by measuring the extent -- in the most simple of terms, the area of ocean covered by ice -- or using volume, which includes the thickness of the ice. Either way, the ice is disappearing.

The downward trend in the Arctic continues, but NSIDC is reporting near average rates of decline for early summer 2013. Sea ice extent in May averaged 5.06 million square miles. That’s 193,000 square miles less than the often-cited, 21-year average.

The melting of the ice extent varies from region to region; the Barents Sea on the Atlantic side of the Arctic continues to hold while ice of the Pacific side in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk melts faster.

May 2013 was the 10th lowest May in the data center’s satellite record. The record low occurred two years ago in 2011. This year, the ice extent during May declined at an average rate of 14,100 square miles per day.

Lower than average temperatures were the rule in May for Alaska and Greenland. The data center linked the low temps to slack winds over central Alaska that resulted in “very little mixing to get rid of the cold air.”

The volume of Arctic ice is decreasing, too, as it’s getting thinner and thinner. In contrast to the dramatic reduction in ice extent, the 2011 to 2012 change in volume was in line with volume losses that occurred in previous years, according to the Polar Science Center. But volume fluctuates nearly every year, with 2007 and 2010 losses being substantially greater.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com