Many areas of the planets natural systems are failing due to human induced climate change and other anthropogenic stressors. Reductions in carbon emissions are always seen as the most impactful and safest way to reduce long-term catastrophic warming. But, even with an unprecedented switch to renewable energy, the ratification of the Paris Agreement, and a rethinking to greener practices, humanity was still set to warm the planet over the two degree Celsius average mark sometime between 2030 and 2050, a mark considered by most scientists to be an irreversible and a dangerous tipping point.
By the time UNIRO was organized in 2021 under the Auxilium Protocol the Earth’s average temperature soared to just over one and half degrees Celsius above the twentieth century average, with some months in the year averaging even higher. Freshwater reserves were drying up, the poles were melting which were raising sea levels, forests were dying, and food was withering. Faced with such issues, the United Nations authorized the research, development, and implementation of massive geoengineering projects the likes of which the world had never seen before under the UNIRO Engineering Corps. Geoengineering is the large-scale manipulation of Earth’s climate and terrestrial systems to help alleviate the adverse effects of human induced climate change.
Putting hundreds of thousands to work in both government and industry, these projects were deemed as last resorts as geoengineering had always been deemed risky, controversial, and untested at scale. Yet many believed, given UNIRO’s scientific and well-funded eye to the concept, it was all worth it. Projects are implemented under the direction and guidance of the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and only move forward if ultimately approved by the UN Security Council. To date, twelve such projects exist, some on regional scales, some on global.
Ocean Plastic Collection Arrays
Area of Activity: Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans
Inception Date: Late 2021
One of the first UNIRO geoengineering projects ever completed, the ocean plastic collection arrays UNIRO utilizes across the worlds oceans are designed to collect harmful floating man-made debris endlessly stuck in ocean currents. Every year, millions of tons of plastic are dumped into the worlds oceans. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be more pieces of plastic in the oceans then there are fish. Over the past half century, plastic debris has been accumulating in large ocean gyres that naturally collect
floating debris. One of the most famous and widely known natural collection points has come to be called the Great Pacific Garbage patch, which is actually a series of accumulation areas spread out across the north pacific. Some of these areas are the size of the state of Texas. similar patches exist in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
This debris can remain in the oceans indefinitely, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces until what used to be a water bottle becomes thousands of milimeter-sized floating pieces. These pieces can be ingested by marine life and become a harmful part of natural ecosystems. Given a powerful enough storm, some of this debris can wash up onto shore and litter beaches. UNIRO decided to make this project one of its first large-scale environmental rehabilitation projects because the organizational also saw this waste as a potential resource.
With literally trillions of pieces of plastic floating in the oceans, UNIRO believed it was possible to not only recover these pollutants but also to reuse them, turing them into usable tools and other pieces of field equipment. Being started within months of UNIRO's founding, even before the nine bases were completed, most materials now found in the hands of UNIRO personnel, whether it be flashlights, ropes, hardhats, computer casings, or even their uniforms, is made from recovered ocean plastic.
UNIRO partnered with The Ocean Cleanup foundation and their revolutionary drifting barrier concept, first introduced to the world by their CEO Boyan Slat in 2012 when he was only eighteen years old. The array is composed of floating barriers about a mile and half long curved to mimic the shape of a shallow U. This allows them to more easily collect floating debris by allowing currents and wind
to simply push debris into the collection barrier where it and subsurface screens stop debris up to one centimeter in size. Plastic then floats towards the center of the barrier where it is collected and stored until UNIRO SAAC vessels come to retrieve it and bring it back to land based processing facilities. Much of the plastic is eventual fed to industrial scale 3D printers. A sea anchor suspended roughly 2,000 feet below the surface tethered to the barrier keeps the array drifting slower then the surface water currents themselves, allowing trash, which is moving at speed with the currents, to more easily be captured by the array. UNIRO currently employs 50 of these arrays worldwide with even more being considered on small scales in seas, harbors, and even in large rivers. Based on modeling done by Ocean Cleanup, it is predicted that the role out of this system could reduce ocean plastic pollution to nearly zero by 2050.
Area of Activity: North America, South America, Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe
Inception Date: March 2022
Project Aja is a global reforestation effort meant to combat deforestation, the permanent destruction of forest to make way for other land uses. It is estimated by the United nations Food and Agriculture Organization that 18 million acres of forest, an area roughly the size of Panama, is lost each year due to a variety of man-made activities. These activities include: logging (both legal and illegal), clearcutting for agriculture, cattle ranching, urbanization, and even plant based diseases and pest infestations such as Pine Beetles that thrive in a warmer world. Currently forests cover about 30 percent of the worlds landmasses but this coverage used to be far greater as Deforestation is nothing new to humanity.
People have been using wood to build homes and cutting forest to make way for agriculture for thousands of years. For example, much of North America's and Europe's indigenous forest have been removed since midevial and colonial times. Today, about half of the world's tropical rainforest have been cleared. According to NASA if current deforestation trends continue, the world will lose its rainforest by 2100. about thirty-six football fields worth of trees is destroyed every minute, contributing anywhere between six and twelve percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions for reasons that will be discussed later.
Countries with the highest deforestation rates are Thailand, the democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, and Indonesia. of these nations, Indonesia suffers the most, having lost 15.79 million hectares worth of forest since the last century according to study done by the University of Maryland and the World Resource Institute. The island of Borneo (seen to the right), shared territorially between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, has lost more than thirty percent of its rainforest over the past forty years due to clear cutting for plantations, wildfires, and logging. Lowland forest, the most accessible to industrial activity, have seen the most destruction. A startling seventy-three percent of the islands lowland forest have been deforested, putting ecosystems in one of the most diverse regions on the
planet at extreme risk. Much of the islands wildlife is either endangered or nearing extinction.
The Amazon rainforest, the world's largest existing rainforest, is also under serious threat. Ten percent of all plant and animal species on the planet can be found in the Amazon rainforest which covers parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, and Brazil. The country of Brazil by far contains the most of the Amazon Basin, roughly sixty percent of it. the Amazon Basin has lost over eighteen percent of its forest over the last forty years, representing an area about the size of California. This loss is mainly due to the reasons that Borneo has lost its rainforest, which include logging, clear cutting, and cattle ranching.
Both the Amazon and Borneo, along with other remaining rainforest, are vital to maintaining Earth's climate. Both are considered carbon sinks, meaning they absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere naturally as a part of the carbon cycle. It is estimated that the Amazon alone stores up to 100 billion metric tons of CO2, ten times the annual amount humans produce each year through the burning of fossil fuels. Should these forest be cutdown or burned, as many are in a process known as slash and burn agriculture that sees trees burned to make way for farmland, huge stores of carbon could be
UNIRO scientists use inflatable nets perched atop forest canopies to conduct field research. These noninvasive nets hold living tents and science equipment and are air dropped into place, usually by Phoenix 21.
released into the atmosphere, having a devastating effect on our climate by raising global temperatures to dangerous levels. Forest fires in Borneo in 2015, set by slashing and burning practices to make way for palm oil plantations, released 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more than the average annual emissions of Japan.
through Project Aja, UNIRO intends to recoup these losses and help stabilize the rate of deforestation around the world, especially in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Using ground and aerial based drones stationed at regional facilities UNIRO has begun deploying millions of seed pods annually loaded with tree species native to endangered areas. Volunteer programs, working in collaboration with individual countries own aid and environmental networks, are also used to help with the immense project, employing thousands of global volunteers. UNIRO scientists lead multi-month long expeditions into these forest using inflatable treetop nets (seen above) as research outpost to monitor the projects progress and the health of existing forest and the wildlife within them. This field research is supported by UNIRO's Phoenix 5 satellite network, which can assist with tracking illegal logging activities, spotting wildfires before they get out of control, and detecting carbon dioxide emissions. To date, UNIRO has helped to plant well over two billion trees.
Greenland Meltwater Capture
Area of Activity: Greenland
Inception Date: June 2022
The Island of Greenland, the largest island in the world, is home to one of Earth's largest land ice sheets. The ice sheets total area is 695,000 square miles (1.8 million square kilometers), which is fourteen times the size of England. This sheet makes up a majority of the islands interior as one can see in the map to the right. The total area that is ice free, found on the fringes of the island, is 135,000 square miles (350,000 square kilometers), or about the size of Germany. Much of this fringe is made up of mountains, islands, ice clogged fjords, valleys, and glaciers that snake out from the center of the ice sheet to the ocean under the force of gravity. Once at the ocean, these glaciers break off in a process called glacier calving that leads to formation of icebergs.
The ice sheet can be anywhere between a few feet thick at its edges to over 10,000 feet thick at its highest points. Ten percent of the worlds freshwater can be found locked within the ice. every summer, some of this ice naturally melts into the surrounding ocean or remains on top of the ice sheet in the form of brilliant blue freshwater supraglacial lakes that can refreeze in the winter. The image above shows an example of this. waterfalls of ice melt can be seeing flowing off of the sheet into the sea below.
Today, this annual melting is increasing drastically due to human-induced climate change warming the Arctic. The region has warmed faster than any other area on Earth and continues to do so. Observations from NASA's GRACE satellites (seen in the video to the right) indicate that the Greenland Ice sheet is now losing an average of 281 gigatonnes of ice a year. It is believed that if the world's average temperature is allowed to rise to two degrees Celsius of warming, the universally agreed upon threshold of what is considered to be dangerous, the Arctic's temperature could rise to five degrees celsius.
Rising air temperatures can melt the ice sheet from its top and edges but this is not the only reason. Warming ocean waters are also eating away at glaciers from below, destabilizing the ice sheet behind the glaciers once they melt. Algae and microbes that are becoming more prevalent on the increasingly wet surface of the ice sheet change the ices coloring, altering its albedo or the reflectivity of its surface. These microscopic animals, in conjunction with soot and dust from more frequent wildfires in the lower latitudes, are darkening the ices surface (changing its albedo). This darkening absorbs more heat from the sun instead of reflecting it as clean ice would. An example of these phenomena can be seen below.
The biggest effect of this melting is to raise sea levels. Should the entire Greenland ice sheet melt it would raise sea levels by twenty-three feet.
UNIRO Scientists and engineers decided to use this melt- water to their advantage and see it, much the way ocean plastic is viewed, as a resource to be capitalized on. The plan was simple: capture as much meltwater as possible in the spring and summer months, harvesting a quarter of it to be used as drinking water for the worlds thirsty and using the other three-quarters to spray atop the ice sheet in the fall and winter months to refreeze and strengthen its surface so that it may better weather each intensifying melt seasons.
In the summer of 2022, teams of GEO's set out across the ice sheet to identify appropriate drilling sites that would bore thousands of feet down in some cases into the ice to reach areas of trapped liquid water. As this was being done, other surveying teams combed the islands iceless edges in search of a location for a massive water filtration, processing, and storage facility that could feed the acquired meltwater to waiting tankers offshore. By October 2022 each of these locations was found and construction started. A total of twenty drill sites were built. Crews used laser drilling equipment to bore through the thick ice to reach water stores and runoff pathways. Once drilling was completed and pumps installed the process was left to automation.
Billions of gallons of water are pumped from these drill sites through inflatable pipelines laid out across the surface of the ice sheet and down to the islands southern tip to the new processing plant. The plant, named Sellers Station (shown as a red circle on the map above), can pump out 200 billion gallons of freshwater a day to either waiting automated SAAC tanker ships built by Rolls Royce or to enormous storage tanks that are heated to prevent the water inside from freezing. Sellers station is also highly automated and powered entirely by wind energy acquired from the near constant breeze that whips across the island. What took thousands to build only has a permanent personnel presences of a hundred people.
Water is pumped two miles offshore to loading arms. Hoses attach from these loading arms (five in total laid out in a semicircle pattern separated a mile apart each) to the bow of tanker ships. A small fleet of icebreaking drones patrol the waters around each loading arm ensuring ships have a clear passage to each arm, especially in the fall and winter months. One of these loading arms can be seen below.
As winter approaches captured meltwater is pumped to a vast network of towers built from radio antenna trusses equipped with spray nozzles at their tops. Each tower is 150 feet hight and built to withstand hurricane force winds and subfreezing temperatures. The towers begin spraying water in mid-fall and continue until the end of winter. each nozzle is heated to prevent ice build up. Vertical axis wind turbines built into the tower power the pumps necessary to push water up the height of each tower. Communications and science instruments are also held on these towers.
This image was taken inside one of Sellers Stations many pumping and filtering areas where meltwater is processed before shipping. As one can see there is no one to found as the process is highly automated for cost savings and safety concerns.
Area of Activity: Greenland, Antarctica, and other vital land based glaciers deemed to be in imminent danger of collapsing
Date of Inception: June 2022
The system of pumping and refreezing meltwater atop Greenland's fragile ice sheet cannot be used on the sheets glacial edges. These glaciers, which exit into the surrounding ocean, are rapidly declining in size and because of it have become extremely unstable, making them unable to support Spray towers, drill sites, and pipelines. The health and longevity of these glaciers are vital to the overall health of the ice sheet behind them because they help to keep it stable, literally holding it back like a dam. The smaller and less stable the glaciers are, the quicker the collapse of the ice sheet behind them becomes.
Unfortunately it is not only Greenland's glaciers that are melting. Most of the worlds glaciers are in retreat, from the Alps, to the Rockies, to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, which is estimated to lose all of its ice by 2030. UNIRO needed a new method to stabilize these glaciers and one that was quick and easy to apply. The fix was something we all use in our own homes, blankets.
First tested in 2005 by a local textile company called Fritz Landolt on the retreating Gurschen glacier in Switzerland to huge success, the blankets are made from recycled ocean plastic that is composed of two layers. The top layer is a white polyester to reflect ultraviolet light. The bottom layer is made from polypropylene, a polymer used in auto parts and military clothing to block heat. When a glacier is wrapped in a cryo blanket, it prevents the ice underneath from melting in the summer. The blanket is left in place to be buried by natural snowfall, providing a firm base from which a glacier could re-stabilize itself. Each blanket is produced in rolls that are fifty feet wide and 500 feet long. Blankets are then either airlifted or trucked to their intended site where they are then unrolled and placed atop glaciers in need, often by hand. This is one of UNIRO's most dangerous geoengineering projects as workers must contend with hidden crevasses, avalanches, icefalls, and massive pieces of ice shifting below their feet. So far these cryo blankets have been placed on glaciers in Europe, Greenland, North America, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, and most recently in Antartica, one of the most remote regions in the world. Thousands of square miles will eventually be covered.
Global CO2 Sequestration Effort
Area of Activity: Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Timor Sea, and South China Sea
Date of Inception: September 2022
Atmospheric Carbon dioxide levels have been increasing rapidly since the Industrial Revolution. At the end of the ninetieth century, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were at roughly 280 parts per million. In 2013 concentrations broke 400 parts per million. In 2017 they hit 410 parts per million, the highest observed levels for at least the last 800,000 years based on air bubble samples found frozen in ice cores from Antarctica. Since 1958, direct atmospheric CO2 concentration levels have been measured at NOAA's Mauna Loa Baseline Observatory in Hawaii (seen in the graph above).
Today, ten years later, concentrations are threatening to exceed 425 parts per million. Currently no natural phenomenon can account for such a rapid and sudden rise in CO2, a greenhouse gas that naturally acts to warm our planet. Various human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are the primary drivers of this rise. This has led to an increase in global temperatures of almost two degrees Fahrenheit or just over one degree celsius. Humanity is literally forging a new atmosphere, an atmosphere that modern civilization was not meant to live under. If business as usual scenarios play out then Earth's atmosphere could reach a state not seen in 50 million years by mid-century. Fortunately, UNIRO is all about not conforming to business as usual.
in September of 2022, UNIRO began the implementation of a massive global carbon dioxide sequestration program. Carbon Sequestration is the process of removing Co2 from the atmosphere for long-term storage. The overall goal of the program is to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 parts per million, a concentration that would reduce planetary warming and return Earth's climate system to stability.
The plan was laid out into two phases at the core of the sequestration concept, removal and storage. Atmospheric CO2 has risen to such dangerous levels so quickly that emissions cuts are no longer the only viable mitigation strategy to fight their climate change inducing effect. UNIRO set itself the goal of reducing CO2 levels by two parts per million each year until the 350 parts per million threshold is reached. While legislation like the Paris Agreement will continue to actively curb emissions at their source, UNIRO has committed to active emissions removal. This two parts per million goal equates to gigatons worth of CO2 emissions. Direct carbon capture is already an expensive endeavor, even with UNIRO's vast budget. A full development and implementation program built from scratch would cost trillions. To overcome this financial issue UNIRO employed the help of two unlikely industry's; petroleum and nuclear.
Using massive air scrubbing units built by Climeworks and Statoil placed linearly on vast expanses of unused land (mostly in deserts, outside cities, and along industrial facilities), UNIRO captures CO2 and pipes it to coastal holding facilities along the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Timor Sea, and the South China Sea. From here, it is sent via SAAC ship or undersea pipeline to depleted oil and gas fields for permanent storage. Oil rigs of old take delivery of this captured CO2 and pipe it tens of thousands of feet below the sea floor in superficial form to be locked away forever in a process called geo-sequestration. Where rigs are not feasible, pipelines directly inject CO2 into these emptied fields via autonomous undersea well sites manned by ROV's (Robotic operating vehicle's). Some of these pipelines are hundreds of miles long.
Nuclear plants readying to be shutdown across Europe, Japan, and North America in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster were repurposed to take advantage of their enormous, already in place infrastructure. As the plants reactor vessels were decommissioned, UNIRO engineers modified the plants existing cooling towers to act as gigantic air scrubbers, sucking in hundreds of tons of air a minute. CO2 captured from these plants is also delivered to the oceans for storage. To date, twenty-three nuclear plants have been modified for direct CO2 capture, keeping thousands employed.
UNIRO is also considering a more controversial CO2 storage option, one that involves pumping liquid CO2 into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The trench is the deepest part of the world's oceans with the deepest section of the trench, Challenger Deep, being measured at an astonishing 35,000 feet deep. At this depth, CO2 would remain on the bottom undisturbed as a CO2 lake because at two miles or deeper CO2 becomes denser than water. This method will most likely not pass IPCC and UNIRO scientific review due to the fact that this method of storage could negatively effect the trenches unique ecosystems.
CO2 concentrations broke the unprecedented 400 ppm mark last decade and continue to climb.
One can see above and below examples of the massive Climeworks air scrubbers UNIRO employs to scrub CO2 from ambient air. The largest units can be found in deserts where space is abundant.