Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shooting crap in the air to cool the planet

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. Field trials begin next month in the UK for experiments to engineer the climate. Using a balloon, researchers will hoist a 1 kilometer hose and attempt to pump water up and spray it into the atmosphere.

This first trial is essentially to prove that it can be done. Ultimately, the plan is to pump large quantities of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to create a "stratospheric sunshade". Sounds so cool and shady, doesn't it?

Well, the problem is that we don't exactly know long-term effects of this act of geoengineering. Aerosols could deplete the ozone layer, contribute to air pollution and may alter visibility similar to a volcanic eruption. Other options are spraying sulfuric acid from aircraft.

Predictions of deploying such measures assume that, as the planet heats up, people will demand that the planet be cooled off. Unfortunately, according to Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, most simulations of geoengineering are "naive" and cannot model all the possible side effects. He claims that "people are not doing the right kinds of experiments to assess these effects."

I can't wait for a miscalculated cloud of sulfuric acid to rain down on me. Who needs skin anyway? How about you? Do you think we'll get to a point where these kinds of measures are necessary?

For more information, please see the article in the New Scientist, Climate-cooling trials under way. Image courtesy of the New Scientist.


Erica/Northwest Edible Life said...

Oh Christ.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I'm not sure he can help.

Anonymous said...

He tried once but no one listened ! joking aside didn't we used to do this with coal power stations. Don't i remember the Scandinavians liking us much for it... ok i know its only water this time round but thin edge and wedge spring to mind .

Laura said...

Such crap! To me, this is people with lots of money mapping out the plan for how they will 'save the world' when Teh Armageddon hits. All they are really doing is locking in a way to sell snake oil when people think the sh*t has hit the fan.
How about we spend all this damn money on researching the psychology of how to get people/countries/companies to make the changes that drastically reduce their impact on the planet. Spend money on advertising/incentive-izing/cajoling/paying off companies, individuals, whoever so that we change our ways. Now _there_ is a crazy idea. :)

Olivia said...

Oh dear heaven. Having just come through a very cold wet spring, cool wet summer and heading straight into our usual frigid snowy winter, the last thing I need is a cooler planet.

Anonymous said...

Nobody wants to change their lifestyle, they just want a quick fix. It's the same thing that's wrong with the American healthcare system - makes me feel tired.

Brad K. said...

I live downwind, some days, of an oil refinery. My first thought when you mentioned sulphates, was "Wow! What a neat way for oil companies to get rid of all that extra sulfur they are stuck with."

It seems that lower levels of sulphur in gas and diesel fuel results in refineries having to find a decent way to get rid of the accumulation. Plus, with the added removal capacity and higher prices, they have been processing crude with much higher sulfur levels than they could before. Since they can't just burn it off and blow away, this sounds like a scam to get paid to pump the crap into the atmosphere, instead of paying fines for leaving it lay around to taint the ground water, soil, etc.

I do have to wonder just how much funding for the 5/8ths mile long hose comes from big oil, though.

And if someone really wants to affect the atmosphere, two recent reports come to mind. One is that aircraft flying over a few hundred feet seem to be having a disproportionate effect on the upper atmosphere, cloud formation, and atmospheric warming. The other report notes that cosmic rays have the most global effect on the kinds of clouds that form and their reflectivity, and on the composition of the ozone layer. And that cosmic rays are most affected by the cycles of the sun's magnetic field. That is, whatever we do or don't do on this planet has only a secondary effect.

Whether urban legend or not, back in the 1960s I was taught in school that Cuba and Russia had experimented with scattering tons of coal dust on the Arctic ice, as a means to inflict severe weather on the US. Why would anyone think that any useful means of countering atmospheric warming would be less turbulent than the warming? At least the US isn't directly downwind of the UK with their "Let the fog drift onto the neighbors" experiments.

The Haphazard Countryman said...

The only good thing about this is that it isn't the US Government spending the money to do this experiment. And it has to drift over everyone else in the world before it comes all the way back to the US to contaminate us.

Eco Yogini said...

geoengineering truly doesn't take into consideration that our planet is a SYSTEMS organism, where all tiny parts interact with each other dynamically.
it's dangerous and irresponsible.

Crunchy Chicken said...

@Brad - "The other report notes that cosmic rays have the most global effect on the kinds of clouds that form and their reflectivity."

Can you cite this report? All I've seen is that research has shown that cosmic rays can create cloud seeds, but nothing to the extent that many are claiming.

Brad K. said...

@ Eco Yogini,

"it's dangerous and irresponsible."

And yet. When I cut down a tree, I change the landscape. Cut down three trees, and I affect the water table (underground aquifers), the rate of pulling minerals into the surface soil, the reflectivity of a bit of the Earth, and local wind and rain currents and patterns.

When Oklahoma lays out -- or re-surfaces -- a highway, they change the reflectivity of a bit of the Earth, and plant enormous thermal air plumes that stretch across the land.

When a developer plows under farm fields, or chops down trees and builds tract homes and those cute, energy-wasting, curving streets, he changes the thermal characteristics of the area, concentrates water diversion and sewage generation, etc. Oh, and the developer institutionalizes another electricity and oil consuming oasis of energy consumption.

The high flying airliners that introduce fuel exhaust and stir the air at altitude affect the environment. When Arizona planted mile-long lines of Eucalyptus trees to break up the wind, slow soil erosion, and reduce water evaporation from farm lands -- that was geoengineering.

The proposed dams on Scandanavian fjords to moderate spring thaws -- that have been hampering the Gulf Stream that should have been moderating weather in the British Isles and western Europe -- would have been geoengineering, albeit to restore a previous ocean pattern.

When Colonial and early American settlers cut down the old-growth forest that once covered the US east of the Mississippi, that was geoengineering.

When we let refineries build huge flare towers to burn off inconvenient wastes and products because it was a convenient and cheap way to avoid containing (safely) and dealing with various flammable liquids and gases, we are geoengineering.

When we plant a garden we are sacrificing a bit of our yard. When we join a bunch of folk in planting gardens, we are geoengineering.

We are geoengineering all the time. There is one theory that the "next" ice age began about 1200 A.D., and only the burning of fossil fuels and wood has staved off the growing chill -- and reducing industrial and residential smoke, char, and thermal blooms will embrace the sheets of ice in short order. And, yes, whatever the outcome, deliberately changing our energy use is geoengineering.

Brad K. said...

@ Crunchy,

You are right, this isn't a report.

An experiment with the Hadron Supercollider posits that something that might act like cosmic rays might act to affect cloud formation and cover.

The article I saw first wasn't as clear about the speculative parts.

In this (Christian Broadcast Network) article, the emphasis is "we were right all along!"
"Landmark Study Links Cosmic Rays to Climate Change
By Dale Hurd
CBN News Sr. Reporter
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A major scientific study is casting fresh doubt on the theory of man-made climate change. In fact, this latest research shows it may be something far beyond the control of humans. "


Brad K.

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Lower said...

I love "people will demand that the planet be cooled off". Right. There are ways to achieve that and some 'people' (like knowledgeable scientists) have been 'demanding' it for decades. But their suggestions might inhibit commerce and we can't have that, can we? This experiment sounds like something straight out of the 19th Century. It will give a whole new meaning to 'acid rain'.

emmer said...

i don't know if we will get to the point that these kinds of measures are necessary, but we surely will (and have)reached the point where we will try these kinds of measures, even tho we have NOT thot out what bad shit will happen.
rumor has it that the fed gov't spread flu virus from airplanes over san francisco in the late 50's. the purpose was to see where the winds would carry such materials, in case our enemies attempted germ warfare. they then tracked the cases of influenza, and deaths there from to gain the info they wanted. hmmm. kind of like when my father, while on duty in the naval reserve, witnessed nuclear tests in the nevada desert in the early 50's. the gov said it was safe, after all, they were more than a mile i surprised that he died of leukemia?
perhaps i am a bit of a skeptic, but i think we trust too many people in positions of authority over us. we need to know and understand more basic science. we need to do more thinking for ourselves.