This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Painting a glacier?

The painting team approaching the peak of Chalon Sombero, Peru
From here
Lipaca, Peru, is a village high (5000 meters) in the mountains of Peru being devastated by the demise of nearby glaciers. The people, and their alpacas, have relied on water from glaciers that have now disappeared.  In an experiment, Eduardo Gold, and the foundation "Peru Glaciers" are whitewashing the rocks with a mixture of water, sand and lime to try to change the local albedo and restore the glaciers. The principal is simple: the natural local rocks are black. They absorb sunlight and heat up, a property described by the "albedo." The higher the albedo, the more sunlight absorbed. Gold postulates that by painting the rocks white, the albedo can be reduced. Less sunlight is absorbed, the rocks are cooler, and the glaciers may return.  Using a hand-held measure of albedo, he shows a difference of temperature of the rocks of 30 F between black and white rocks. Then, as seeming proof of this concept, grabs a handful of ice out of the cracks between the rocks, and it does appear that water is flowing where, according to the local people, it hasn't flowed for awhile.

The rocks are painted by an amazing effort of throwing whitewash on rocks one bucket at a time--a hardy people carrying one bucket at a time over rock by rock on this mountainous terrain!  So far, 15,000 square meters have been covered with whitewash. Sounds impressive? It is, when viewed by rock by rock, but it's only three times the area of a football field.  Gold estimates that it will take three BILLION square meters, or 500,000 football fields, to restore a glacier here. the cost would be 1.5 billion over 5 years, a huge sum for a small village in Peru. The UN has given him a startup grant to pursue the project.

But, carrying this further--I never doubt the ingenuity of the human brain. Given proposals to load the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide to create a yellow haze to reflect sunlight, isn't it logical to think that someone will propose that if six billion people were throw just a few buckets each of whitewash on our fields, farms, and mountains we could cool the globe??  .....definitely need to think about this...

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