Home Ice bergs British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, a perfect place to invent ways to save the world

British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, a perfect place to invent ways to save the world


Scholarly inventor Bowie Keefer’s vision is to divert warm currents from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to combat rising sea levels

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The near-wilderness of Galiano Island is a logical place to hang out when you and your wife sat in Point Gray and gazed out across the water to the Gulf Islands, says Bowie Keefer.

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“It has the advantage of having no traffic lights, no parking meters, and the stop signs are purely advisory,” he said from his home on the island.

A perfect place, in other words, to research practical solutions to global issues such as how to stem rising sea levels.

Keefer is a physicist, engineer, inventor and trail builder. Many of the trails in Pacific Spirit Park are credited to Keefer since he earned his doctorate at UBC. in physics.

Among his professional roles, Keefer is scientific advisor on advanced adsorption technology to Svante, a carbon capture engineering company in Burnaby. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy under President Obama and a Nobel laureate, is a member of the board.

Svante is a spin-off from QuestAir Technologies, which Keefer founded in 1998 – Jonathan Wilkinson, MP for North Vancouver and Minister of Natural Resources, was CEO for a time – and which has developed clean energy technologies such as hydrogen purification, biogas upgrading and natural energy. gaseous dehydration.

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The son of an English war bride and a Canadian soldier, Keefer grew up in the bush of northern Ontario, where his father was a mining engineer.

He entered the Royal Military College of Canada, earned a Bachelor of Engineering, and was deployed across Canada and as far away as Gaza.

“After seeing the whole country, as soon as I got out of the military, I came straight to Vancouver,” he said.

The Galiano home of Keefer and his wife Anna is a beautiful cedar-beamed work of art that their son Sam built above Bodega Ridge, a resort that another son, Jesse, built and manages with his wife.

The Keefers’ third son, Mike, is the leading visionary for Keefer Ecological Services, which restores land that has been damaged by industry.

If the “COVID disaster” had any upside, Keefer said, it proved that working remotely in almost any field that didn’t require hands-on handling was possible from almost anywhere, even a Gulf island with traffic suggestions rather than laws.

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He has an agreement with UBC to access the school library electronically and download anything.

“All the scientific equipment is at hand, and I work with people in Finland and Germany, sometimes in China, on scientific projects and I can do it here… about as efficiently and more fortunately, not traffic jams, and you can get in touch with people immediately.

His interest in climate change and sea level rise led him to come into contact with John Moore, a British glaciologist who, in an article in the scientific journal Nature, proposed stemming the currents of warm water off Greenland and Antarctica to prevent ice erosion. Moore wondered what the engineers thought of the idea.

Well, Keefer thought about that 13 years ago. Until then he had been an independent researcher founding small startups, but at age 65 he decided to focus on global issues.

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Keefer took a year off to study oceanology, glaciology and climatology to try to understand where we are with climate change and sea level rise.

In 2009, while paddling his kayak through a kelp bed off Galiano, he came up with the idea of ​​a water curtain anchored to the seabed that would divert deep warm water while allowing the shallower cold water, marine animals and even glaciers to slide on. .

Moore loved the idea, telling Canadian freelance journalist Gwyn Dyer, “The engineers laughed at us…said ‘Don’t be so stupid. You don’t want to have bulldozers or something at the bottom of the sea.’ »

The British glaciologist estimates that Keefer’s plan would cost $5 billion a year over 10 years to put the curtain up, then $2 billion a year thereafter for upkeep, or 5-10% of what it would cost to build seawalls to protect all the coastal cities on the planet. .

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“This includes a fleet of five icebreakers, 10 ice-strengthened ships, curtain fabrication in southern Chile, the lot.”

According to the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, world governments must limit global warming to less than 2°C, and preferably 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels. .

“We’re halfway through those two degrees,” Keefer said. “The melting of the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica has already passed the tipping point, so even if we get along with fossil fuels, we still have a sea level rise problem.”

Even the elimination of CO2 emissions will then mean a slower rise in sea level, but still a continuous rise.

This got Keefer thinking about how to stabilize the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets.

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“The idea is to place a gigantic tarp attached to the bottom of the sea to stop this flow of hot water,” he said.

He sent a few letters with mathematical calculations to various authorities, but got no reaction until he responded to Moore’s article in Nature two years ago proposing concrete dams.

Keefer has lost track of how many patents he holds – over 50, anyway.

A thought-provoking hour-long phone conversation pleasantly covered the topics of Ukraine, Russia, China and NATO; the Gulf Island Trust; melting permafrost; rapid transit and bike paths; the Marshall Plan; take carbon taxation seriously; gross mismanagement of forests; a video tour of the craftsmanship that went into building the Keefers’ home; science fiction novels…

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Keefer will join Moore, the British glaciologist, and others, including Christian Schoof, a UBC glaciologist, in Greenland in October.

“We’re going to look at these glaciers and look at one of the sites which is quite critical; it was probably the glacier that released the iceberg that sank the Titanic and has been retreating at a very rapid rate for 50 years.

This visit will be followed by a conference in Iceland.

“What we’re hoping to do is actually mobilize serious studies because we need to involve great experts in ocean engineering, people who make underwater platforms and pipelines, and what’s more, do in choppy ocean conditions… 2,500 kilometers south of Cape Horn.”

And, in the case of Greenland’s most vulnerable ice caps, about 4,000 kilometers across an iceberg-strewn sea from a hypothetical construction base in Newfoundland.

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“We want to involve global experts to solve this problem and what we have done so far is a preliminary feasibility assessment, asking ourselves if this could work, if there is an obstacle that will mean that it will not work.

“We’ve found several reasons why it’s difficult, there are risks in working near icebergs or under them…but we haven’t found any reason why it won’t work.”

Keefer prefers the term stewardship to geoengineering. At 78, he remains hopeful.

“I’m optimistic, I’ll tell you,” he said. “But we cannot be complacent.

“There is a whole set of tasks that humanity has to undertake. We just have to do it, we have to be serious, that’s all.

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