WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department is seeking to persuade Russian authorities to allow the use of a $1 million ice-maker to build ice on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, but a Russian official said it would be prohibitively expensive.
The U.N. agency has been pressuring Moscow to allow construction of a massive ice-processing facility on the shelf to help combat rising temperatures and sea levels that threaten coastal communities and businesses in West Antarctica, where temperatures have reached as much as 18 degrees Celsius (49 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal.
The Russian government has rejected the request and said the project would not benefit its citizens, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Russia has been pushing to build a mammoth ice-producing facility to store the frozen soil from the melting of the West Antarctica ice sheet, which has already been retreating in recent decades.
But in the face of international pressure to act, Russia is trying to persuade the United States to back off on the proposal.
“We don’t think it is appropriate to give the ice machine a permit from a state that has such strong views on the Antarctic Ice,” Alexander Grigoriev, deputy director of the Russian Antarctic program at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said at a news conference on Thursday in Moscow.
The ice-makers would be able to remove more than 90 tons of water a day, according to a study commissioned by the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization.
It would also be capable of producing up to 1,000 cubic meters of ice a day.
The U and Russia have been working on the project since 2006, but the cost of the project has been running into the millions of dollars per year.
The United States, which accounts for around a third of the world’s ice melt, has been a major contributor to the project, with the ice-milling capacity to be about 4,000 square kilometers (2,400 square miles), or about 1.5 million square feet, depending on the volume of water required.
In the early 2000s, the Obama administration was the first country to issue a permit for a new ice-breaking station in the West.
The facility, which will be built in an area called the South Pole Ice Dome, is expected to be complete by 2025, although there are concerns that it will take as long as a decade to complete.
The West Antarctic ice sheet has retreated more than 30 percent over the past century, leaving much of the landmass vulnerable to flooding, which could lead to coastal flooding.
In a statement, the U.K. government said it welcomed the Russian initiative but stressed that it would not be possible to build such a complex facility on a large scale without significant environmental impact.
“While the potential to create large-scale infrastructure on Antarctica is great, the costs and challenges involved are unprecedented,” the U-K.
Russia’s ice-melting project is a joint venture between the Russian state-owned Sakhalin Southern Gas Corporation and an Australian company.
The Sakhalinsk Ice Dome was established in 2005 and is located in the Antarctic Peninsula and would be the first of its kind.