A few years back, scientists toyed with the idea that man-made clouds could cancel out the effects of global warming. The process, known as ‘marine cloud brightening,’ would create clouds over the ocean that would reflect light away. The original research, by Professor Eric Bickel and Lee Lane, was commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and looked into the costs of potential climate engineering projects.
The claims were big: The researchers concluded that the effects of climate change this century could be eliminated for £5.3billion–which was a fraction of the £150billion that leading nations were contemplating to spend each year to eliminate CO2 emissions. How would it work? The idea was that 2,000 ships would suck up sea water and spray it into the atmosphere, forming large clouds when water forms around the sea salt particles. The clouds would then reflect light back into space, creating a cooling effect on Earth.
David Young stated, “Marine cloud whitening could achieve as much for the planet as carbon cuts would, but at a fraction of the cost. It’s important to note that this technology wouldn’t reduce carbon emissions or tackle the causes of global warming, but would mask its effects.” But the idea was dismissed as science fiction, and at the time was deemed controversial.
Now scientists at the University of Washington have taken a second look at manufacturing artificial clouds to cure global warming. In a paper, to be published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, atmospheric physicist Rob Wood shares a way to run an experiment that would test the effects of cloud brightening on our environment, hoping to prove that the experiment is worthy of consideration.
Science Daily reports:
Marine cloud brightening is part of a broader concept known as geoengineering which encompasses efforts to use technology to manipulate the environment. Brightening, like other geoengineering proposals, is controversial for its ethical and political ramifications and the uncertainty around its impact. But those aren’t reasons not to study it, Wood said.
“I would rather that responsible scientists test the idea than groups that might have a vested interest in proving its success,” he said. The danger with private organizations experimenting with geoengineering is that “there is an assumption that it’s got to work,” he said.
Wood and his colleagues have proposed that a series of small experiments take place to see if this idea can materialize. They recommend a ship try creating a cloud to see if spraying sea water upwards can even form a cloud, as hypothesized. The next step would be to use airplanes with sensors to see how these clouds form, and more importantly, how long they last. Should all these studies show promising results, then the next move would be to conduct a small-scale experiment to see how well the clouds reflect light into space.
While this whole conception seems too good to be true, Wood and his colleagues make a valid point: There’s no harm in trying. If this idea does pan out, then major strides could be made in canceling out global warming.
Photo by Janek Mann