Explainer: Would dropping a huge chunk of ice into the sea help cooldown our Earth?

By now, perhaps you’ve admitted that the Earth is warming. Summers seem to be getting warmer and the amount of wildfires per year are increasing. So, how should we go about cooling it down? 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the idea of dropping a huge block of ice into our ocean to cool it down. This would make sense on a smaller level, you put ice in a drink to cool it down, so it should work for the Earth too. Well, this person isn’t wrong. This idea actually would work, but for different reasons. 

When sunlight reaches our Earth, some of it is reflected back out into space, and some is absorbed into the atmosphere making our Earth warmer. 

Snow is great at reflecting light back out into space. In fact, it reflects light out with an efficiency of around 0.6 to 0.9. This value is called the albedo.

This graphic shows the efficiencies of reflecting heat & light of different materials. The efficiency of snow and ice are way above the efficiency of water. (Wereon/Wikipedia)

It would also help if the ice was extremely thin and placed somewhere where it wouldn’t melt so easily. While it probably won’t make much of a difference, its better than nothing. 

It’s exactly for this reason that the ice caps are so important right now, and why their disappearance should alarm us.

This diagram shows the decreases in the volume of the Arctic. The graph is cleverly wrapped around in a spiral, to imply the arctic’s potential disappearance.
(Andy Lee Robinson/ClimateState)

As they disappear, the amount of heat that gets reflected back into space decreases, and which increases. It becomes a vicious cycle.

This diagram shows what happens when sunlight hits the water vs. hitting the arctic and a visual of the positive feedback cycle. The albedo-ice feedback cycle is important to break. (Tovarg/Wikipedia)

This is a positive feedback cycle, and it explains the rapid decrease of glaciers in the current century and the reasons for such decrease. 

So, dropping a huge chunk of ice into the ocean certainly would help cool down our Earth, but it had better be pretty massive. We should focus on preserving our current glaciers instead. 

Also, this article does not mention thermodynamics. If we were to take thermodynamics into account, we would gain as much heat as we lose through this process, so there wouldn’t be much of a decrease in heat if we were to drop an ice sheet into the ocean. However, the albedo of the ice still plays a role in the Earth’s temperature and this argument is still valid.