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Indonesian Scientists Have Designed a Submarine That Re-Freezes Seawater

It creates hexagon-shaped ice that can fit together seamlessly while drifting at sea, like a honeycomb.

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
12 September 2019, 6:15am

ILLUSTRASION OF SUBMARINE UNDER ICE VIA PUBLIC DOMAIN; MELTING ARCTIC ICE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/CC LICENSE 2.0

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

In an ironic twist, a group of scientists from equatorial Indonesia have designed a device to revitalize glaciers over in the arctic. Scientists Faris Rajak Kotahatuhaha, Denny Lesmana Budi, and Fiera Alifa won second place at the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) International Design Competition in Thailand earlier this May, with a design for a submarine-like device that refreezes seawater.

The competition called on scientists to design an environmentally-friendly architectural concept. Faris and his team came up with a project titled “Re-freeze the Arctic,” which is explained in the video below:

The submarine is fitted with a hexagonal tank that collects seawater and treats it with the process of reverse osmosis, which separates salt from the water. This raises the water’s freezing point to -16 degrees Celsius. After a month, the submarine releases a 2,073 cubic meter, 24 meter-wide slice of hexagonal ice. The process is then repeated.

“We got the idea from research about rising sea levels, which is directly linked to climate change and causes icebergs to melt. We relied heavily on data from NASA,” Faris told local media.

Faris said he and his team chose a hexagonal shape for the ice because they fit together seamlessly while drifting at sea, like a honeycomb. The hexagonal shape also refers to the water molecule.

Andrew Shepherd, professor at the University of Leeds in England, believes the solution is promising, but difficult to apply in real life. Shepherd said it would take 10 million of these submarines to replace the ice that has melted over the past four decades.

"That's a lot of machines. For context, that's not far off the total number of Model-T Fords built in all time," Shepherd told CNN.

Addressing Faris’ claims that his design will counter sea level rise, Carly Cassella, in an article for Science Alert, stressed that contrary to widespread belief, melting icebergs do not contribute to rising sea levels. This is because icebergs were already floating in the ocean from the start. A more effective approach, Carly wrote, would be freezing land ice that flow into the ocean, contributing to sea level rise.

Cassella is also skeptical of how the submarine would fundamentally operate. If it doesn’t utilise green, renewable energy, the project will only contribute to global emissions. She believes the most viable solution for rising sea levels and saving arctic wildlife is by simply reducing emissions.

Faris and his team aren’t the first to propose an Arctic-refreezing scheme. In December 2016, Steven Desch, a professor at Arizona State University, came up with a concept for a wind-powered pump that extracts seawater and sprays it onto existing ice caps, allowing it to refreeze. But like Faris’ design, this mechanism would have to be applied on an extremely large scale in order to be effective, costing up to US$500 billion.

These innovations are still worthy of appreciation even if they aren’t practical. Designs like Faris’ and Detsch’s are a step in the right direction, and could potentially open the door for other approaches to addressing climate change. It’s also a step forward for Indonesia, which is home to the most climate change deniers in the world.

This article originally appeared on VICE ID.