Two Harvard engineers, David Keith James Anderson, have engaged in a field experiment in solar geoengineering, aimed to create a technology that replicates the observed effects of erupting volcanoes spewing sulphates into the stratosphere. This natural spewing of sulphates cools the Earth by bouncing sunlight back to space. Therefore, by analysing such natural events and mimicking, they planned to spray sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet. The chemicals are transported using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

geoengineering balloom

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The experiment involves the release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles to measure the impacts on ozone chemistry as well as to test ways to make sulphate aerosols the appropriate size (Lukacs, 2012). Keith hopes his experiment can help improve models of how the ozone layer could be altered by much larger-scale sulphate spraying.

However, environmental groups fear the ‘geoengineering solution’ may undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Other concerned parties include scientists who warn that such methods could result in unpredictable and disastrous consequences for the Earth’s weather systems and food supplies.

“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,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the Canadian-based technology watchdog ETC Group (Lukacs, 2012).

Furthermore, a scientific study showed that solar radiation management could cause rainfall to decrease by 15% in areas of North America and northern Eurasia and by more than 20% in central South America (Schmidt et al., 2012).

The use of geoengineering to attempt to alter Earth’s atmosphere is a highly contested issue, just as global warming is. The multiple factors and stakeholders involved make the issue even more complex than it already is but time is ticking and Earth continues to suffer as seemingly never-ending arguments seem to go on. More concrete solutions should be enforced as soon as possible and existing alternatives like reducing carbon emissions should be capitalized on.

References

Lukacs, M. (2012). US geoengineers to spray sun-reflecting chemicals from balloonThe Guardian. Retrieved 11 February 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/17/us-geoengineers-spray-sun-balloon

Schmidt, H., Alterskjær, K., Karam, D., Boucher, O., Jones, A., & Kristjansson, J. et al. (2012). Solar irradiance reduction to counteract radiative forcing from a quadrupling of CO2: climate responses simulated by four earth system models. Earth System Dynamics3, 63-78.