Whitewashing: Deflecting the effects of global warming

According to a World Bank report in 2009, global warming during the last 30 years has had an impact on Peru’s glaciers. The remaining glaciers could disappear in 20 years if measures are not taken to mitigate climate change.

There is a smart solution to the problem that scientists have been looking into – it is to literally apply whitewash to the problem.

The principle behind this is whiteness’ ability to reflect heat. A white or colorless object reflects all the visible wavelengths of light and as a result also reflects the energies or heat of these wavelengths.

Last year, Peruvian inventor Eduardo Gold won in a World Bank contest for his solution to curb the melting of the glaciers in the Peruvian Andes by applying a coat of whitewash onto the mountains.

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According to BBC, Mr. Gold will get $200,000 from the bank for his idea and his pilot project is already being run on the Chalon Sombrero peak, 4,756 meters above sea level.

The whitewash is made of three simple and environmentally-friendly ingredients – lime, industrial egg white and water. Locals from nearby villages have been spreading the material by splashing it onto the loose rocks around the summit.

By increasing the reflectivity of the mountain, it is hoped a microclimate will be created that will help stop glacial melting and maybe even allow the glaciers to rebuild by giving them a cold surface to adhere to.

The project will not just preserve the natural wonder in the glaciers but will also help provide water security for Peruvians who depend on the glaciers for fresh water.

The idea of increasing an area’s reflective ability to reduce the effect of global warming is also the idea behind a project for the Presena glacier in Italy’s province of Trento.

Between 1993 and 2003, Trento’s Presena glacier lost as much as 38 percent of its total mass due to an increase in global temperature increasing melting. In the hopes of slowing the rate at which the ice melts, officials covered one of the most threatened glaciers with insulating fabric.

The nearly 970 thousand square feet of 4-millimeter-thick thermal material is meant to protect the Presena glacier from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The insulating material should reduce the amount of ice that melts from the summer heat.

And in Germany, for about 14 years, Germany’s highest mountain, the 10,000-foot peak Zugspitze also got its own sunshield covering with reflective tarps to reduce the amount of shrinkage in the ice sheet.

From mountains to roofs

Whitewashing the mountains and other methods of shielding glaciers from the sun is admittedly a stop-gap effort and will not be able to halt local melting altogether if global carbon emissions and global warming are not controlled. However, applied in smaller familiar areas, it might help make people’s lives a little more comfortable.

Whitewashing roofs and buildings can deflect the suns ray’s in urban areas as well as it does on snowy mountain peaks.

Roofs and road pavement cover 50 to 65 percent of urban areas. Dark-colored roofs and roadways absorb heat and create the “urban heat island effect,” where a city is significantly warmer than its surrounding areas. Whitewashing or reflecting the light away can decrease the heating effect.

A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that using cool roofs and pavements in cities around the world can help reduce the demand for air conditioning, cool entire cities and potentially cancel the heating effect of up to two years of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

This was recognized by United States Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently when he announced a series of initiatives to implement “cool roof” technologies on agency facilities and buildings across the government.

«Cool roofs are one of the quickest and lowest cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions and begin the hard work of slowing climate change,» said Secretary Chu. «By demonstrating the benefits of cool roofs on our facilities, the federal government can lead the nation toward more sustainable building practices, while reducing the federal carbon footprint and saving money for taxpayers.»

Cool roofs are simply roofs that used lighter-colored roofing surfaces or special coatings to reflect more of the sun’s heat. This helps reduce cooling costs and offset carbon emissions. The simplest way to have a cool roof is to whitewash it.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has already installed more than two million square feet of cool and white roofs at sites across the country. This currently saves the agency an average of $500,000 a year in energy costs.



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