A Geoengineering Tryout

(Photo: dingbat2005)

We’ve written a good bit (in Chapter 5 of SuperFreakonomics and also the blog) about potential geoengineering solutions to global warming. This summer, with the SPICE geonengineering trials on hold in the U.K., two scientists are getting ready to try out a small-scale experiment in the U.S. From The Guardian:

Two Harvard engineers are to spray sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet, using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The field experiment in solar geoengineering aims to ultimately create a technology to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes that spew sulphates into the stratosphere, using sulphate aerosols to bounce sunlight back to space and decrease the temperature of the Earth.

As lead researcher David Keith explained: “The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale. … The direct risk is very small.”

(HT: Jason Skidmore)

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  1. Eric M. Jones. says:

    “Two Harvard engineers are to spray sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet, using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico”

    And that was the beginning of the Zombie apocalypse….

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  2. Trog says:

    I am always wary when people attempt to tackle consequences rather than the root problem because it fosters complacency to ignore the real problem, that is, high outputs of CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s like investing money into research on weight-loss pills and surgery rather than health education; you’d be less concerned about eating healthily since there appears to be an easy way out. Then again, we can’t afford to sit and wait for our government to enforce anything substantial or private companies to self-regulate to lower emissions.

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    • thbcolorado says:

      By that logic one would eschew antibiotics because they only tackle the consequence of contracting bacterial diseases. Every problem is the result of a complex series of causes, the disruption of any of which is a potential a solution.

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  3. nazani14 says:

    I’m glad to see some recognition of the fact that even if we stopped emitting all CO2 and methane right now, the effects of global warming will continue to get worse before cooling begins. We have to sequester carbon. There’s another way we can reflect sunlight, of course- drive white or silver vehicles, paint all dark roofs with reflective paint, cover up our asphalt roads with something white. Perhaps something as simple as white or grey clay would do, and it would be pretty much be washed away by winter, when dark roads assist in the melting of snow.

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  4. Jon says:

    Hello there!

    I don’t wanna sound snarky, but let’s be realistic and pragmatic.

    What are the probabilities of humans reducing their carbon emissions to safe levels in the next 30 years? Pretty darn low. You’ve seen how the Copenhagen and Rio summits just…….sucked.

    It seems like humans will be humans will be humans.

    Now, with temperatures rocketing up faster than even the grumpiest scientists predicted, we’ll probably fry unless we do something big and drastic.

    It’s only wise to look into emergency measures while we still have the resources to do so in a scientific way.

    The last thing we would want to happen would be for governments to engage in a hastily planned geo-engineering project in the middle of a crisis. Imagine if clumsy ol’ China, pushed to the brink by a mega-drought, suddenly tried to unilaterally fight climate change with a ill-informed project that backfired and made things worse. After all, desperate governments often do desperate (and foolish!) things.

    If we start looking into geoengineering options now, we’ll be more likely to find the most appropriate one, even if it is kinda imperfect. There are many different theoretical geo alternatives to choose from and I doubt that they all perform equally well on a global scale. But we’ll never know unless we try ‘em out on at least a small scale test, will we?

    So please, my fellow earthlings, even if you don’t particularly the idea of Gee-Oh-engineering, give it a chance.

    Love,
    Jon

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    • MDBritt says:

      You write: “with temperatures rocketing up faster than even the grumpiest scientists predicted, we’ll probably fry unless we do something big and drastic.” Does actual data matter at all here? How about “with temperatures not rocketing up at all…”

      Second, be very careful what you ask for. While it is likely that temperature increases will return, the last 13 years of temperature data have made it clear that we have a tenuous grasp on all of the forces at work in climate. Attempting to “geo-engineer” a solution to a poorly understood problem could be catastrophic. Indeed, the only thing worse than warming would be cooling.

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    • VESENG says:

      @ Jon says “Now, with temperatures rocketing up faster than even the grumpiest scientists predicted, ..”

      Sorry, that is wrong. The observed temperatures have stopped rising since at least 1998. This is not in accord with the models (all that I am aware of anyway.) So if the CO2 keeps rising as it has during this period doesn’t that at least imply that the models are wrong.

      Looking into geo-engineering possibilities is OK if it doesn’t cost too much, though research into just what does influence the earth’s temperature and by how much might be useful. The money could also be used to help the poor in the here and now. Or even to help reduce government deficits.

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  5. Guy says:

    Trog, nazani14, and Jon all point to carbon as the greenhouse culprit, but it’s known that water vapor is a more effective greenhouse gas, and much more prevalent in the atmosphere. When you start talking about sequestering water vapor, then we will all know you’re serious. Insane, but serious.

    Also, VESENG is quite correct that actual, real, measurable warming peaked and has been roughly flat for over a decade, even as the carbon in our atmosphere continues to rise. I think that means that existing climate models using CO2 to predict warming are about as flawed (maybe even fraudulent) as Michael Mann’s hockey stick model. For the benefit of those who missed the ‘hide the decline’ controversy, etc., it’s the one that makes the same prediction with noise as it does with temperature data. Thus, no matter what we do, no matter what temps do, Michael Mann’s pseudoscience will show a sharp uptick in temperatures at some point in the future.

    When climate science advances to being a science, then we can all make predictions.

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