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  • The scientists are investigating the possibility of marine cloud brightening.

    The scientists are investigating the possibility of marine cloud brightening. | Photo: Reuters

I want to test geoengineering and see if it works. But the whole time we’re working on this, I think we need to still be asking ourselves: ‘Should we do it?'” asked one of the scientists.

Researchers from the University of Washington believe climate engineering may be the answer to managing the ever escalating rates of global warming.

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The scientists are studying the possibility of marine cloud brightening, a strategy where, in theory, salt water would be sprayed into the air, creating a unique cloud that would reflect incoming solar rays.

Published in Earth’s Future journal, three researchers together with author Rob Wood, a professor of atmospheric sciences, state in their essay that the small-scale tests of marine cloud brightening could reveal secrets of the clouds and aerosols and possible ways to utilize them in cooling the planet.

However, the project has been in the works for a number of years, with UW researchers pairing up with California Bay Area’s engineers to create a nozzle that would be powerful enough to eject the salt-water particles into the air.

“A major, unsolved question in climate science is: How much do aerosol particles cool the planet?” said author Wood. “A controlled test would measure the extent to which we are able to alter clouds, and test an important component of climate models.”

However, the report allows that the strategy is still in its early stages. One of the more uncertain aspects of the project is the amount of sunlight the marine clouds will reflect. Water droplets only condense on airborne particles, such as smoke, salt or human pollution. The more particles in the air, the more droplets are formed and the whiter, brighter, and more reflective the clouds will become.

Many climate scientists believe that since the Industrial Revolution, in the later 1700’s to early 1800’s, clouds have steadily become more reflective with the growing amount of pollution, offsetting warming from greenhouse gases, although the extent of marine cloud brightening is difficult to determine.

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“We’re talking about some kind of new world in terms of the ethical issues,” Thomas Ackerman, co-author and a researcher on the project said. “But for climate, we’re no longer in an era of ‘do no harm.’ We are altering the climate already. It’s now a case of ‘the lesser of two evils.'”

Researchers propose to produce a sprayer able to eject trillions of aerosol particles per second and conduct the necessary lab tests, initiate a preliminary outdoor test in a flat, coastal area that’s relatively free of pollution, and then begin small-scale offshore tests.

“There’s a science question about can we do it, but there’s also an ethical question about should we do it, and a policy question about how would we do it,” Ackerman said. “I’m an agnostic on this. I want to test geoengineering and see if it works. But the whole time we’re working on this, I think we need to still be asking ourselves: ‘Should we do it?'”

The project is awaiting funding from the government and other private donors.


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