A reader named R.E. Riker alerts us to the progress of an experimental ocean restoration project (more here); the ringleader is one Russ George, who has proven controversial. Before your knee jerks in one direction or another, take a look:
This summer the crew has been aboard ship engaging in what is surely the most substantial ocean restoration project in history. In a large ocean eddy west of Haida Gwaii the project has replenished vital ocean mineral micronutrients, with the expectation and hope it would restore ten thousand square kilometers of ocean pasture to health. Indeed this has occurred and the waters of the Haida eddy have turned from clear blue and sparse of life into a verdant emerald sea lush with the growth of a hundred million tonnes of plankton and the entire food chain it supports. The growth of those tonnes of plankton derives from vast amounts of CO2 now diverted from becoming deadly ocean acid and instead made that same CO2 become ocean life itself. For weeks the men and women, on this village team toiled in stormy overcast weather and fog without a hint of blue sky. In mid-August the skies cleared and revealed the wonder of the mission on which they have laboured. Satellites focused on ocean health that monitor and measure plankton blooms sent back stunning images. Far offshore in these Haida salmon pastures a vast plankton bloom is revealed matching the health and vibrancy of blooms seen in rich coastal waters. The return of such blooms is “the stuff dreams are made of” for all ocean life.
Most discussions about geoengineering start out with the tricky scientific issues but eventually get to the even trickier issue of governance. As we wrote in SuperFreakonomics:
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As of this writing, there is no regulatory framework to prohibit anyone — a government, a private institution, even an individual — from putting sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. (If there were, many of the world’s nearly eight thousand coal-burning electricity units would be in a lot of trouble.) Still, [Nathan] Myhrvold admits that “it would freak people out” if someone unilaterally built the thing.
This is a guest post by Matthew Watson, a lecturer in geophysical natural hazards at the University of Bristol and the lead researcher for the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project (SPICE), whose experiments are currently on hold. He blogs at The Reluctant Geoengineer.
The Case For Climate Engineering Research
By Matthew Watson
As project lead for the SPICE project (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), I have been on quite a journey over the last eighteen months. SPICE is important, challenging, socio-politically charged, and high-profile: a heady mix for a youngish researcher like me. It looks to answer the question “Can we emulate the cooling observed after large volcanic eruptions to ameliorate the worst effects of global warming?” Despite playing to my apparent Messiah complex, the trials and tribulations of steering the project through rough seas has been more than enough to keep my feet on the ground. That is a challenge that faces all who research such grand things. Read More »
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:
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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.
An editorial in Nature argues that geoengineering needs a charter if research on the topic is to move forward. The journal cites the recent cancellation of the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) experiment due to concerns about “intellectual-property rights, public engagement and the overall governance regime for such work.” Nature argues that resolving the intellectual-property concerns may be the easiest part:
More troubling is the lack of an overarching governance framework. Although the SPICE trial has been cancelled, other tests of geoengineering technology will surely follow. Other work, such as fiddling with clouds to make them more reflective or to try to bring on rain, touches on both climate-change mitigation and weather modification.
Geoengineers should keep trying. They should come together and draft detailed, practical actions that need to be taken to advance governance in the field. Regulation in these cutting-edge and controversial areas needs to be working before the experiments begin, rather than racing to catch up.
Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called “The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?”
Let me rephrase:
Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called “The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?,” which is essentially a New Yorkerized version of Chapter 5 of SuperFreakonomics, all the way down to the Mount Pinatubo explosion and the reliance on scientists Ken Caldeira and Nathan Myhrvold. Read More »
We wrote in SuperFreakonomics about how past volcanic eruptions have resulted in a temporarily cooler planet, thanks to the release of sulfuric ash into the atmosphere. New research indicates that a series of volcanic eruptions may have caused the Little Ice Age:
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The study, led by the University of Colorado Boulder with co-authors at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other organizations, suggests that an unusual, 50-year-long episode of four massive tropical volcanic eruptions triggered the Little Ice Age between 1275 and 1300 A.D. The persistence of cold summers following the eruptions is best explained by a subsequent expansion of sea ice and a related weakening of Atlantic currents, according to computer simulations conducted for the study.
As someone who has written about geoengineering (and been hit with the requisite slime for doing so), I was more than a little surprised to see the results of a survey about the public’s view of geongineering (abstract here; PDF here) by researchers at the University of Calgary, Harvard, and Simon Fraser University, and published in Environmental Research Letters. From the press release:
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Research on geoengineering appears to have broad public support, as a new, internationally-representative survey revealed that 72 per cent of respondents approved research into the climate-manipulating technique…. Public awareness of geoengineering is remarkably broad. Eight per cent of the sample were able to provide a correct definition of geoengineering, an increase on previous estimates; however, 45 per cent of the sample correctly defined the alternative term “climate engineering”, adding weight to the argument that “geoengineering” may be misleading and difficult to understand.