Sunday, September 15, 2019

Viability of Glacier Grafting Tested

Article Written By: Anjiya


Increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have led to a dramatic increase in ocean acidification since oceans absorb approximately a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions. Melting glaciers further add to the problem by disrupting ocean current patterns and increasing salinity. This impacts everything, from marine organisms to crop yields. Water conservation is an effective means of reducing CO2 emissions; can glacier growing work? 

Carbon dioxide reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid which causes acidification of seawater. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humans have added approximately 400 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere resulting in a 0.1 pH drop in the ocean. While this value may appear small, such a drop in pH translates to an astonishing 25% increase in acidity since the pH scale is logarithmic. 

The rapid speed of acidification deprives marine organisms of time to adapt thereby weakening corals, softening the shells of scallops, slowing the molting of crabs, confusing fish with diverse smells and more. 

Melting glaciers and icebergs release freshwater initially reducing salinity of the surrounding sea. Consequently, seawater becomes less dense which influences ocean current patterns. This, along with atmospheric changes are contributing factors to oceans’ increasing salinity despite increased glacial melting. Water salinity and shortages are two of the largest environmental constraints that crops have to face in the climate change scenario.

To increase their supply of fresh water, the local people of northern Pakistan have been grafting glaciers for over 100 years. The aim is to "grow" ice at high altitudes in the winter to increase meltwater for crop irrigation during the summer. The practice begins in the autumn, where a dozen local men climb to shaded areas above the snow line with 300kg of glacial ice and pots of Indus River water (approx. 120 kg), as well as other ingredients like saw dust, wheat husk, charcoal and salt. These ingredients are placed in a cave or depression and covered with soil. 

Glacier growth is slow and affected by a multitude of factors. Viability studies on this practice began in 2005 but due to the nature of glacier growth, it is too soon to draw any conclusive evidence on its effectiveness. However, according to the locals, these grafting techniques are the only solution to late summer water shortages in their villages. 

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