Solar radiation Management to Cool the Planet

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Two Harvard engineers – in an ingenious attempt to combat global warming – are employing a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico for releasing into the atmosphere thousands of tons of chemical particles. The idea is that these would to reflect sunlight back into space and thus artificially cool the planet down. This is an experiment in solar geo-engineering that aims to replicate volcanic activity by putting sulfates into the stratosphere.

Whenever volcanoes erupt they spew many thousands of tons of particles into the atmosphere. Indeed it is believed that some major events – such as Krakatoa – were responsible for cooling of the globe over several years due to the gas clouds emitted blocking out so much sunlight.  The contents of such clouds would in effect bounce sunlight back to space and thus over time decrease world temperatures. There are those who see such action as an inexpensive method of slowing down global warming but some scientists fear unpredictable or even disastrous consequences.

Food supplies and weather systems could be dramatically affected by increasing sulfate levels. There is evidence to suggest – from Arctic ice-core studies – that plant growth was restricted heavily in times of previous events of this kind so the whole experiment needs to be conducted with a great deal of care. Possibly because this action might reduce the need to lessen carbon emissions Microsoft founder Bill Gates is fully behind it and eager to see how it works out when put into practice.  His researchers have previously commissioned one US aerospace company with making the case for such a course of solar geo-engineering technology- based solutions.

This Gates funded US experiment began in  2013 releasing  large particle clouds in order to test sulfate particle sizes for effectiveness and also measure the impacts on ozone chemistry. Though it may take some time to realise results this experiment  may help improve models of how much larger-scale sulfate spraying could affect the ozone layer.

Whilst the experiments are not meant to harm the climate, the study of the impacts of sulfuric dust emitted by volcanoes gives environmental groups pause for thought, as the potential for further damage to the ozone layer – disruption of rainfall and potential threat to food supplies of billions of people.

A very recent study showed that solar radiation management could decrease rainfall in areas of North America and northern Eurasia by 15% and in central South America by more than 20%.  Nonetheless, this project is definitely a step in the right direction, if we are ever to get global warming under control again.

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