iceberg making submarine
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
May 20, 2020 ·  6 min read

Iceberg-making submarine aims to help tackle global warming by ‘re-freezing’ the Arctic

Planting trees has become a movement to help replenish forests and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So naturally, we should start planting ice in the Arctic, right? 

A team of Indonesian designers embarked on a mission to find out if this was possible. They created a unique machine to help fight climate change: an ice-making submarine. 

This idea won runner-up in an international design competition for radical ways to improve sustainability. This submarine design falls in line with other recent proposals to “refreeze” the Arctic, from sprinkling the area with artificial sand to spraying seawater at the sky to brighten the clouds. This proposal, however, is much more appealing. After all, it’s a sleek, oval, iceberg-creating submarine. 

The Drastic Loss of Arctic Sea Ice 

Climate change is wreaking havoc on the Arctic. Arctic sea ice is continuing to disappear, affecting the temperature of the polar regions, global weather patterns, and habitats for species like polar bears. The results from the annual Arctic report card in 2019, a peer-reviewed assessment from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the plant.  [1] 

“If I had gotten a report card like this as a kid, I would have been grounded,” said Donald K. Perovich, a professor of engineering at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College and the lead author of the report’s chapter on sea ice. “It’s not showing much improvement at all. Things are getting worse.” 

According to the report, 95% of the ice sheet of Greenland has thawed, a melt that occurred much earlier than usual. This caused concern over the rise of sea level. Arctic sea ice, particularly the Bering Sea, which hosts some of the United States’ largest commercial fisheries, saw reductions in sea ice for the second winter in a row. The sea ice that remains seems to be thinner, younger, and more likely to melt. 

“The very old ice that’s been around for more than four years used to be 33 percent of the ice cover and now it’s 1 percent,” Dr. Perovich said. “One way to think about that is, when we look at the area that the old ice-covered back in 1985 it was a little bit bigger than the United States east of the Mississippi River. And all that’s left now is Maine.” 

Since sea ice affects the heat in the ocean, this loss causes rippling effects to the rest of the oceans and the ecosystems that rely on it, including our own. The thawing permafrost releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening climate change, and creating a self-destructive cycle. [2]  

How the Iceberg-Making Submarine Would Work 

The group was led by 29-year-old architect Faris Rajak Kotahatuhaha as they envisioned a vessel that can produce 16-foot-thick, 82-foot wide hexagonal icebergs. Here’s how. 

Step one: The submarine would go underwater to fill its hexagonal central cavity with seawater.  

Step two: The salt will be filtered out using reverse osmosis which will raise the water’s freezing point by over 3 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Step three: A hatch will close over the chamber to shield it from sunlight. 

Step four: The iceberg will form naturally inside the cavity with the help of freezing technology. 

Step five: After a month, the iceberg is ejected as the vehicle removes the cover and submerges, leaving the iceberg to float away.  

Step six: Repeat. The designers hope that the hexagonal shape would encourage the icebergs to fit into each other to create larger frozen masses. 

“The main goal of this idea is to restore the polar ecosystem, which has a direct effect on the balance of the global climate,” said Kotahatuhaha, adding that “it is better to prevent than cure.”  

The designers believe that too much focus is on the defense of this issue, not on the offense. Instead of creating an idea to protect cities from rising sea-levels, they decided to tackle the core of the issue. Although Kotahatuhaha does add that “to stop global warming, of course, we still have to reduce carbon emissions throughout the world.” 

The submarine is still early in its conception, and there are many questions about the functionality of such a machine. The designers have yet to determine how the submarine would be powered, although they plan for it to be fully sustainable. They also designed enough space in the submarine to host polar research centers, underwater hotels, and other functions to help fund the project. [3] 

Read: A golden chamber buried under a mountain in Japan contains water so pure it can dissolve metal.

Could the Submarine Work in Theory? 

Andrew Shepherd, a professor of Earth observation at the UK’s Leeds University, believes the idea is an “interesting engineering solution,” while doubting the project’s scalability. He estimates that in order to replace the ice caps at the same rate they have melted in the last 40 years would require about 10 million submarines. 

“That’s a lot of machines,” Shepherd said. “For context, that’s not far off the total number of Model-T Fords built in all time.” [4] 

Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State, describes the iceberg-making proposal as, “it’s like trying to save the sandcastle you built at the beach using a dixie cup as the tide comes in.” 

Mark Serreze director of the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, gives a similar response. “What are you going to do, put out a flotilla of 10,000 submarines? Who’s going to build them and how much energy does it take, and how are the submarines powered?”  

Unless they are powered by a clean energy source, he adds, these vehicles are going to burn fossil fuels and release even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  

Serreze considers the idea a Band-Aid solution since it doesn’t address the root cause of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Still, he believes geoengineering is an important tool in this fight for the planet — but only as a last resort. 

“There has been a lot of work on geoengineering, and it should continue,” he said. “We never want to go in that direction. But if it’s a last gasp, then you try it.” [5] 

Keep Reading: Enormous Floating Solar Farms Can Extract Carbon Dioxide from Seawater to Replace Fossil Fuels

[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Arctic Report Card 2019. December 6, 2019 

[2] Kendra Pierre-Louis. Climate Change Is Ravaging the Arctic, Report Finds. New York Times. December 10, 2019. 

[3] Alyn Griffiths. Iceberg-making submarine aims to tackle global warming by re-freezing the Arctic. Dezeen. July 27, 2019 

[4] Oscar Holland. Scientists and designers are proposing radical ways to ‘refreeze’ the Arctic. CNN. September 2, 2019 

[5] Jaclyn Jeffrey-Wilensky. This ice-making submarine would pop out bergs to help fight climate change. NBC News. August 6, 2019