Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Experiment Would Test Cloud Geoengineering as Way to Slow Warming

22.08.2012
Even though it sounds like science fiction, researchers are taking a second look at a controversial idea that uses futuristic ships to shoot salt water high into the sky over the oceans, creating clouds that reflect sunlight and thus counter global warming.

University of Washington atmospheric physicist Rob Wood describes a possible way to run an experiment to test the concept on a small scale in a comprehensive paper published this month in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

The point of the paper -- which includes updates on the latest study into what kind of ship would be best to spray the salt water into the sky, how large the water droplets should be and the potential climatological impacts -- is to encourage more scientists to consider the idea of marine cloud brightening and even poke holes in it. He and a colleague detail an experiment to test the concept.

"What we're trying to do is make the case that this is a beneficial experiment to do," Wood said. With enough interest in cloud brightening from the scientific community, funding for an experiment may become possible, he said.

The theory behind so-called marine cloud brightening is that adding particles, in this case sea salt, to the sky over the ocean would form large, long-lived clouds. Clouds appear when water forms around particles. Since there is a limited amount of water in the air, adding more particles creates more, but smaller, droplets.

"It turns out that a greater number of smaller drops has a greater surface area, so it means the clouds reflect a greater amount of light back into space," Wood said. That creates a cooling effect on Earth.

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 propose trying a small-scale experiment to test feasibility and begin to study effects. The test should start by deploying sprayers on a ship or barge to ensure that they can inject enough particles of the targeted size to the appropriate elevation, Wood and a colleague wrote in the report. An airplane equipped with sensors would study the physical and chemical characteristics of the particles and how they disperse.

The next step would be to use additional airplanes to study how the cloud develops and how long it remains. The final phase of the experiment would send out five to 10 ships spread out across a 100 kilometer, or 62 mile, stretch. The resulting clouds would be large enough so that scientists could use satellites to examine them and their ability to reflect light.

Wood said there is very little chance of long-term effects from such an experiment. Based on studies of pollutants, which emit particles that cause a similar reaction in clouds, scientists know that the impact of adding particles to clouds lasts only a few days.

Still, such an experiment would be unusual in the world of climate science, where scientists observe rather than actually try to change the atmosphere.

Wood notes that running the experiment would advance knowledge around how particles like pollutants impact the climate, although the main reason to do it would be to test the geoengineering idea.

A phenomenon that inspired marine cloud brightening is ship trails: clouds that form behind the paths of ships crossing the ocean, similar to the trails that airplanes leave across the sky. Ship trails form around particles released from burning fuel.

But in some cases ship trails make clouds darker. "We don't really know why that is," Wood said.

Despite increasing interest from scientists like Wood, there is still strong resistance to cloud brightening.

"It's a quick-fix idea when really what we need to do is move toward a low-carbon emission economy, which is turning out to be a long process," Wood said. "I think we ought to know about the possibilities, just in case."

The authors of the paper are treading cautiously.

"We stress that there would be no justification for deployment of [marine cloud brightening] unless it was clearly established that no significant adverse consequences would result. There would also need to be an international agreement firmly in favor of such action," they wrote in the paper's summary.

There are 25 authors on the paper, including scientists from University of Leeds, University of Edinburgh and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The lead author is John Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Manchester, who pioneered the idea of marine cloud brightening.

Wood’s research was supported by the UW College of the Environment Institute.
For more information, contact Wood at 206-543-1203 or robwood2@u.washington.edu

Nancy Gohring | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Live from the ocean research vessel Atlantis
13.12.2018 | National Science Foundation

nachricht NSF-supported scientists present new research results on Earth's critical zone
13.12.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

UNLV study unlocks clues to how planets form

13.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Live from the ocean research vessel Atlantis

13.12.2018 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researcher deciphers flows that help bacteria feed and organize biofilms

13.12.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>