Two US geo-engineers have devised a field experiment in New Mexico that aims to reflect some of the sun’s harmful rays back into space.
The experiment involves releasing up to hundreds of kilograms of sun-reflecting sulphate from aerosols into the atmosphere via a balloon over 80,000 feet above Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The village is home to the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, a NASA resource used for launching, tracking and recovering high altitude balloons.
Inspired by nature, the investigation is designed to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes. Their emitting of sulphuric acid into the atmosphere reflects the sun, thereby cooling the Earth.
Sun Reflecting Chemicals
One of the researchers, David Keith, suggests that solar engineering could be a positive step in counteracting global warming. He states, "the objective [of the experiment] is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale."
However, other scientists in the field argue that geo-engineering could produce adverse weather conditions and effect food supplies. The European Geosciences Union released evidence from a study published in their open access journal, Earth System Dynamics that geo-engineering could reduce rainfall patterns significantly. Their findings suggested that North America and Northern Eurasia could see a 15% reduction, whilst South America could see a loss of 20%.
Pat Mooney, executive director of Canada’s ETC Group, stated, "impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions – potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people. It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geo-engineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict – given that the modelling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south.”
Environmental groups are also wary, fearing that solar geo-engineering may take the imperative away from reducing carbon emissions, and relying on science experiments such as this as a replacement for battling climate change.
In 2011, a British experiment involving a balloon and pipe was cancelled due to high levels of controversy. Like Keith’s experiment, the test was inspired by the activities of volcanoes, instead spraying fine water droplets from a balloon 1km high. The experiment known as SPICE, (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) became a “conflict of interests” when the researchers had submitted patents for the technology before the test was carried out.
On SPICE, Keith said, "I wish they'd had a better process, because those opposed to any such experiments will see it as a victory and try to stop other experiments as well."
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