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Geo-engineering: The radical ideas to combat global warming
Artificial clouds and creating colossal blooms of oceanic algae are among the ideas scientists say must now be considered
* Alok Jha, science correspondent
* Monday September 01 2008 09:54 BST
Artificial clouds to reflect away sunlight, creating colossal blooms of oceanic algae and the global use of synthetic carbon-neutral transport fuels are just three of the climate transforming technologies in need of urgent investigation, according to leading scientists. The eminent group argue that, with governments failing to grasp the urgent need for measures to combat dangerous climate change, radical – and possibly dangerous – solutions must now be seriously considered.
The idea of engineering on a planetary scale in a bid to control climate has been around for more than 50 years but, to date, has remained on the fringes. The potential for dramatic and beneficial change has hitherto been outweighed by the risk of unexpected side-effects in the complex climate system, with global consequences. Now, in a special edition of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, climate scientists and engineers have brought together the latest research and issued a call for a far-reaching assessment of a raft of geo-engineering techniques.
"We are now, or soon will be, confronting issues of whether, when and how to engineer a climate that is more to our liking," argues Ken Caldeira, a leading climate scientist based at the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California. If a decision is made to move ahead with climate engineering, he says, then it will be essential to understand the point at which the risks and costs of geo-engineering outweigh the impacts of global warming.
Not everyone is so unequivocally positive, however, including Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. In an overall assessment of the geo-engineering challenge, he notes that critics ask whether it is socially feasible to expect the many centuries of international political stability and co-operation that would be needed to operate global scale schemes. He adds that the potential also exists for conflicts between nations if geo-engineering projects go wrong.
Some of the most extreme ideas for climate engineering involve reducing the sunlight falling on the Earth's surface, as a way to offset the increase in temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Caldeira calculates that reflecting just 2% of the Sun's light from the right places on Earth (mainly the Arctic) would be enough to counteract the warming effect from a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
One approach is to insert "scatterers" into the stratosphere. Caldeira cites an idea to deploy jumbo jets into the upper atmosphere and deposit clouds of tiny particles there, such as sulphur dioxide. Dispersing around 1m tonnes of sulphur dioxide per year across 10m square kilometres of the atmosphere would be enough to reflect away sufficient amounts of sunlight.
In a separate study, Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh proposes building 300-tonne ships that could spray micrometre-sized drops of seawater into the air under stratocumulus clouds. "The method is not intended to make new clouds. It will just make existing clouds whiter," he wrote. The ships would drag turbines in their wake, which would provide the power needed to spray the water.
The growth of marine algae and other phytoplankton captures vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but growth is often limited by a lack of essential nutrients. Adding such nutrients, such as iron or nitrates, to stimulate growth was studied by a team led by Richard Lampitt of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. The organisms incorporate atmospheric CO2 as they grow and, when they die, sink to the bottom of the ocean, taking the carbon with them.
Lampitt argues for a large-scale experiments of an area of ocean measuring 100km by 100km and monitored by an independent team of scientists. "Once this research has been carried out, it will be the responsibility of the science community to perform appropriate cost-benefit-risk analyses in order to inform policy."
However, there is at present a moratorium around the world on iron-seeding experiments. "The idea is unpopular with the public because it is perceived as meddling with nature," writes Victor Smetacek of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and Wajih Naqvi of the National Institute of Oceanography in India. But they say rejecting seeding is premature as there have been no experiments to date that fully test the concept and the counter-arguments are based on worst-case scenarios.
More a fifth of the world's human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide come from transport. While technical fixes for these emissions might not count as geo-engineering by the strictest definition, their global effect means they can be considered alongside other options to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. In the long term, experts believe people should be driving electric or hydrogen-fueled cars but those technologies will take too long to arrive for Frank Zeman of Columbia University and David Keith of the University of Calgary.
They propose the development of synthetic fuels called carbon-neutral hydrocarbons (CNHC) as a near-term alternative to petrol and diesel. Made by reacting together carbon dioxide and hydrogen, these fuels can be used in cars without the need for major modification of either vehicles or infrastructure. More importantly, burning them would not contribute to global warming, provided the component ingredients have been manufactured in a carbon-neutral way. The CO2 could come directly from the air, from plants or else from coal-fired power stations using carbon capture and storage technology (CCS). The latter method could also reduce the potential problems of the planned worldwide increase in the number of fossil-fuel power stations. The International Energy Agency predicts the world's use of power will increase by 50% by 2030, with 77% of that coming from fossil fuels; CCS holds the promise of preventing up to 90% of the carbon emissions from a power station escaping into the atmosphere.
Other ideas considered by scientists, though not in the papers published today, include scrubbing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Klaus Lackner of Columbia University has designed a machine that could, if built to full scale, take up the CO2 emissions of 15,000 cars. With around 250,000 such machines, it would be possible to remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as the world is currently pumping into it. The gas could then be stored underground or used in a manufacturing process.
An idea further into the realms of the fantastic involves using shiny spacecraft to block sunlight. Scientists have suggested launching a constellation of free-flying craft that would sit between the Sun and Earth forming a cylindrical cloud around half the Earth's diameter and 10 times longer. "Approximately 10% of the sunlight passing through the 60,000 mile length of the cloud, pointing lengthwise between the Earth and the Sun would be diverted away from the Earth, which would uniformly reduce sunlight over the planet by approximately 2%," writes Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. The cost would be a dazzling $100bn (£55.5bn) a year.
On the day before the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounds its loudest alarm yet, ETC Group warns that some OECD states, led by the United States, are betting on a pie-in-the-sky techno-fix to address climate change. “Geoengineering” refers to the intentional, large-scale manipulation of the environment to bring about environmental change. With no hope for Kyoto, little political will to ask industry or voters to change lifestyles and a growing recognition that carbon trading is a farce, some governments are concluding that massive earth restructuring is the only way out. The Guardian reported earlier this week that the US government is lobbying the IPCC to promote geoengineering activities, such as deliberately polluting the stratosphere to deflect sunlight and lower temperatures. (1)
“We already know that humans can geoengineer planet earth – that’s why we have climate change,” said Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group. “The notion that we can successfully correct our unintentional destructiveness with intentional geoengineering is ludicrous. For the governments who caused the problem to experiment together on geoengineering solutions – outside the UN and without the participation of the South who bear the brunt of global warming and would likely bear the risks of geoengineering – is a grave miscalculation,” said Mooney.
According to ETC Group’s 18-page report, “Gambling with Gaia, http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/606/01/geoengineeringcomfeb0107.pdf” at least 9 national governments and the European Union have supported experiments to spread iron filings on the ocean surface to nurture plankton and sequester carbon dioxide. At least a dozen additional countries are involved in stratospheric weather/climate modification. Commercial carbon traders are engaging in ocean fertilization as well. The scientific debate and the government/commercial experimentation are taking place in the absence of public participation.
ETC Group concludes that geoengineering is the wrong response to climate change. Any experimentation to alter the structure of the oceans or the stratosphere should not proceed without thorough and informed public debate on its consequences, and UN authorization. Geoengineering must not be undertaken unilaterally by any nation. The United Nations must reaffirm (and, if necessary, expand) the Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) recognizing that any unilateral modification of weather or climate is a threat to neighboring countries and, very likely, the entire international community.
Other UN agencies dealing with the impact of climate change must also address this issue. This includes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Most importantly, the IPCC should revisit the concept and practice of carbon trading and replace this market-based, so-called ’solution’ with direct measurable standards for CO2 emission reduction at source,” said Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group. “Instead of coming up with new technological fixes that will cause potentially catastrophic problems, particularly for the South, OECD states must take seriously efforts to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels and to curtail other wasteful practices that contribute to global warming,” added Ribeiro.
The issue of geoengineering and its far-reaching social, environmental, ethical and political implications should be on the agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 3-14 December 2007 in Bali, and the World Meteorological Organization’s 15th Congress in May 2007.
ETC contact information:
Pat Mooney: firstname.lastname@example.org +1 613 241-2267
Hope Shand or Kathy Jo Wetter
email@example.com +1 919 960-5767
firstname.lastname@example.org +1 919 960-5223
email@example.com + 52 5555 6326 64
(1) David Adam, “US Government answer to global warming: Smoke and giant mirrors,” The Guardian, 27 January 2007.
The pathological history of weather and climate modification: Three cycles of promise and hype
by JAMES RODGER FLEMING
WE HAVE ALREADY experienced two major cycles of promise and hype in the history of weather modification, and they have both demonstrated large-scale pathological features. The first cycle, initiated by James Espyʼs speculative proposal in the 1830s to enhance precipitation by lighting huge fires, thus stimulating convective updrafts, preceded the pseudo-scientific hype of the western rainmakers, or so-called “pluviculturalists.” The second cycle, dating to the 1940s, began with promising discoveries in “cloud seeding” by Irving Langmuir and his associates at the General Electric Corporation, but rapidly devolved into a suite of unsupportable claims by cold warriors and again, western rainmakers. A third cycle has begun recently.1 In October 2003 the U.S. National Research Council issued a report titled, “Critical issues in weather modification research.” In the same month the U.S. Pentagon released a controversial report, “An abrupt climate change scenario and its implications for United States national security,” that explored how global warming could lead to rapid and catastrophic global cooling.2 Only three months later, in January 2004, a symposium on “Macro-engineering Options for Climate Change Management and Mitigation” was held in Cambridge, England under the joint sponsorship of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the business-oriented Cambridge-MIT Institute.3 The NRC study cited looming social and environmental challenges such as water shortages and drought, property damage and loss of life from severe storms, and the threat of “inadvertent” climate change as justifications for new national and international initiatives in weather modification research. On a grander, planetary scale, the authors of the DoD report recommended that the government should “explore geo-engineering options that control the climate,” while the Tyndall Centre symposium set out to “identify, debate, and evaluate” possible, but highly controversial options for the design and construction of engineering projects for the management and mitigation of global climate change. These policy initiatives were surrounded by a modicum of promise and an excess of hype, but none had adequate recourse to historical analysis. In November 2006 I participated in a conference sponsored by the NASA-Ames and the Carnegie Institution on “Managing Solar Radiation,” one of the many euphemisms for geoengineering. I was the sole historian. This paper brings the checkered history of weather modification to bear on these very recent initiatives and asks, are we at the start of a third cycle—this time involving both weather and climate modification? ........
Although couched in the language of uncertainty and swathed in caveats, the conferenceʼs proposals coincided with the initiation of pilot projects and served to move the speculative geoengineering agenda closer to the mainstream. In the language of the organizers, “At the very least, such options may be considered as emergency policy options in the event of more adverse climate change impacts than expected, or less effective carbon reduction measures than anticipated.” The conference did not specify “adverse climate change impacts” nor how much climate change would be needed to trigger a geoengineering option. Less-than-effective carbon reduction measures are just about certain to occur.
Among the technical options considered, were (1) carbon sequestration (capture and storage) by geological disposal in landforms or in the oceans, atmospheric scrubbing, ocean fertilization, and enhancement of terrestrial sinks; (2) albedo modification on a planetary scale, for example, by launching mirrors or reflective particles into orbit, adding aerosols to the stratosphere, enhancing cloud reflectivity, and modifying land surfaces; (3) climate design (also known as terra-formation) by attempting to control trace gas concentrations, glaciers, and photosynthesis; and (4) reducing impacts by constructing animal migration corridors and by diverting rivers and glacial melt water in an attempt to stabilize ocean currents and sea level.61
A paper on “Active climate stabilization albedo control,” by Edward Teller (now deceased) and his protégés at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory proposed that both global warming and the onset of an ice age could be prevented by injecting appropriate sub-microscopic chaff particles into the Stratosphere.62 In the case of excess warming, the chaff would reflect about two percent of incoming solar radiation to cool the planet by up to four degrees; in the case of unwanted cooling, a different kind of chaff could be used to enhance the natural greenhouse effect by the same amount. In either case, the authors estimated that “albedoengineering” or active technical management of radiative forcing would cost less than $1B per year or much less than one percent of the cost of “bureaucratic management” of greenhouse gases. Moreover, in their reading, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Art. 3.3) requires reducing bureaucratic management, since it calls for “ensur[ing] global benefits at the lowest possible cost.”63 Notwithstanding the authorsʼ hopes of generating more colorful sunsets, their proposal to control global warming would probably turn the blue sky white while reducing direct beam solar radiation by about twenty percent.64
At the Tyndall Centre meeting two other scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Bala Govindasamy and Ken Caldira, provided a valuable counterpoint to the enthusiasm of Teller et al.65 They argued that the technical, environmental, political, and economic challenges of geoengineering schemes demand further investigation. Even on the merely technical level, they warned that geoengineering could subject ecosystems to unknown and possibly adverse impacts, and that the failure of a geoengineering system could expose the Earth to extremely rapid climate change. They thought the better way to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, an eminently reasonable conclusion echoing that of D. Whitney King over a decade ago.66
The vision of the organizers of the Tyndall Centre conference took in a full range of participants. These included scientists, engineers, economists, and representatives of governments and NGOs, but did not extend to historians of science and technology or to ethicists, although one valuable paper by David Keith presented a policy history of geoengineering. Keith argued that the discourse had been largely pragmatic, based on risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis, and that “serious ethical arguments about geoengineering are almost nonexistent.” Ethically, a large-scale environmental tech fix would be imposed on others, typically by the will of the few; in contrast, a medical tech fix, for example like heart surgery, is at the appropriate choice of the individual patient. Recent sessions at the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science examined geoengineering history, ethics, and policy, but more work is needed.67
Understanding, prediction, and control are the fantasies of both science and science fiction. For some, controlling the weather, climate, or chemical composition of the atmosphere, is more desirable than merely understanding it or predicting its behavior. We have examined two past cycles of promise and hype involving manufactured weather and climate in an attempt to illuminate what appears to be the start of a third rhetorical cycle. Fantasies are again giving way to seemingly rational, technical proposals. But they are only rational without their histories. In the recent flurry of activity beginning in 2003, as well as in the past cycles, massive and immodest proposed interventions served to subvert or at least submerge more fundamental and perhaps more reasonable aspects of cloud physics and climate dynamics. Instead they came to reflect larger social tensions, values, and public apprehensions. James Espy was the leading meteorologist of his day; Irving Langmuir and his team at GE developed many of the basic techniques of cloud physics. However, in both historical cycles, the promise of weather control soon gave way to excessive hype and pathology. No one doubts the competence of the scientists and engineers involved in the recent NRC and DoD reports or the Tyndall Centre and NASA/Carnegie conferences. However, by emphasizing the purely technical or economic aspects of strategies of weather and climate control, bypassing understanding and prediction, and neglecting the historical, ethical, and social dimensions, we are in danger of entering a new cycle of discourse saturated with hype, the heirs of an impoverished debate.
JAMES RODGER FLEMING
The pathological history of weather and climate modification: Three cycles of promise and hype
The chequered history of weather and climate modification exhibits a modicum of promise and an excess of hype. This paper examines two completed historical cycles: the first, dating from 1839, involved western proprietary rainmaking or “pluviculture”; the second, from 1946 to 1978 involved “cloud seeding,” commercial rainmaking, and the attempted weaponization of the clouds. Recently, discussion of weather and climate modification has returned to the science-policy agenda, framed as seemingly inevitable responses to killer storms and global warming. The long history of deceptive and delusional attempts to “control” nature, however, raised serious questions about the rationality of these options.
KEY WORDS: climate control, climate modification, cloud seeding, geoengineering, pathological science, weather control, weather modification
ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2008) — An explanation for a strange property of noctilucent clouds--thin, wispy clouds hovering at the edge of space at 85 km altitude--has been proposed by an experimental plasma physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), possibly laying to rest a decades-long mystery.
What is a Noctilucent Cloud? -- Polar mesospheric clouds, as they are known to those who study them from satellite observations, are also often called "noctilucent," or night shining, clouds as seen by ground-based observers. Because of their high altitude, near the edge of space, noctilucent clouds shine at night when the Sun's rays hit them from below while the lower atmosphere is bathed in darkness. (Credit: NASA)
Noctilucent clouds, also known as night-shining clouds, were first described in 1885, two years after the massive eruption of Krakatoa, a volcanic island in Indonesia, sent up a plume of ash and debris up to 80 km into Earth's atmosphere. The eruption affected global climate and weather for years and may have produced the first noctilucent clouds.
The effects of Krakatoa eventually faded, but the unusual electric blue clouds remain, nestled into a thin layer of Earth's mesosphere, the upper atmosphere region where pressure is 10,000 times less than at sea level. The clouds, which are visible during the deep twilight, are most often observed during the summer months at latitudes from 50 to 70 degrees north and south--although in recent years they have been seen as far south as Utah and Colorado. Noctilucent clouds are a summertime phenomenon because, curiously, the atmosphere at 85 km altitude is coldest in summer, promoting the formation of the ice grains that make up the clouds.
"The incidence of noctilucent clouds seems to be increasing, perhaps because of global warming," says Paul M. Bellan, a professor of applied physics at Caltech.
Twenty-five years ago, researchers at Poker Flat, Alaska, discovered that the clouds were highly reflective to radar. This unusual property has long puzzled scientists. Bellan, reporting in the August issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, now has an explanation: the ice grains in noctilucent clouds are coated with a thin film of metal, made of sodium and iron. The metal film causes radar waves to reflect off ripples in the cloud in a manner analogous to how X-rays reflect from a crystal lattice.
Sodium and iron atoms collect in the upper atmosphere after being blasted off incoming micrometeors. These metal atoms settle into a thin layer of vapor that sits just above the altitude at which noctilucent clouds occur. Astronomers recently have been using the sodium layer to create laser-illuminated artificial guide stars for adaptive optics telescopes that remove the distorting affects of atmospheric turbulence to produce clearer celestial images.
Measurements of the density of sodium and iron atomic vapor layers show that the metal vapor is depleted by over 80 percent when noctilucent clouds are present. "Noctilucent clouds have been shown to act very much like a flycatcher for sodium and iron atoms," Bellan says. Indeed, in laboratory experiments, other researchers have found that at the frigid temperatures (-123 degrees Celsius) within noctilucent clouds, atoms in sodium vapor quickly become deposited on the surface of ice to form a metallic film.
"If you have metal-coated ice grains in noctilucent clouds, the radar reflectivity can become enormous" he says. "This reflectivity is not the sum of reflections from individual ice grains, which would not produce a very large reflection. Instead, what happens is that ripples in the cloud of metal-coated ice grains reflect in unison and reinforce each other, somewhat like an army marching in step across a bridge causes the bridge to vibrate."
Adapted from materials provided by California Institute of Technology, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
The ‘geo-engineering’ approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects.
A carpet of snow blanketing the Forbidden City and the ancient halls and courtyards of the Lama Temple has transformed China’s capital into a fairyland. Hundreds have played truant from offices to sneak a peak of the first snowfall of the winter.
But nature has been given a helping hand. The heavy snowfalls over Beijing have principally been induced by meteorological offices to try to mitigate the most severe drought to grip northern China in nearly half a century.
City officials have been blasting chemicals into clouds over northern China to create the first precipitation in more than 100 days. The first flurries fell on the capital on Tuesday. By Tuesday, more than 500 cigarette-sized sticks of silver iodide had been seeded into clouds above Beijing from 28 rocket-launch bases around the city, said the Beijing Weather Modification Command Centre.
But this was still nowhere near enough to alleviate the drought that is threatening wheat harvests in several northern provinces....
So heavy was the fall that officials closed 12 highways around Beijing yesterday. Residents got up early to sweep the carpet away from their front doors with bamboo brushes. Few are equipped with spades, since snow has become such a rarity in recent years. Road sweepers were drafted in to work overtime, pushing snow into piles against pavements and around trees....
Stormfury seeding diagram by NOAA.
You can read more about Project Stormfury on NOAA's site, including the official reasons for it being disbanded. More information about why hurricane modification is not simple, can be read on my blog entry "Bomb 'Em or Dust 'Em".
And don't forget, the U.S. Air Force said in 1996 that they plan to "own the weather" by 2025.
Then, about late March/early April, the Discovery Channel website began to not have links to this forum anymore. All of their other shows still have their forums, links, & such. Then, as April moved along, the Discovery Channel website soon had no links whatsoever to the Chemical Contrails forum. Eventually, all links to the show that was aired & its "open forum" were completely gone from the Discovery Channel website.
So, just to verify what I am saying: Go to the Discovery Channel website: dsc.discovery.com
Try & navigate the site. Try & search for that forum. Try & find any reference to that show whatsoever. It's like they scrubbed their website clean of records of that show & the forum for it. Very odd. Very suspicious appearing. Very unprofessional of The Discovery Channel.
Long lasting contrails like the ones observed usually occur in parts of the sky that have preexisting patches of cirrus clouds. Since the cirrus clouds are formed of ice crystals like the contrails, cirrus clouds in a region of the sky suggests supersaturation with respect to ice and sufficient heterogeneous nuclei for ice crystals to form. GOES-8 satellite photographs taken at approximately at the same time as the contrails were present show significant cirrus clouds around the Norman area providing the condition necessary for contrail persistence.
Recent research has shown that old forecasting techniques may not be wholly applicable to modern aircraft that now use more efficient engines. In order to compare the performance of both the old and new forecasting techniques a validation trial was carried out over a nine-month period in which RAF pilots reported when and where contrails did and did not occur.
It is easy to see that, if the air is so cold that it cannot hold much water as vapor, the water in the exhaust may be sufficient, when added to the moisture already in the atmosphere, to raise the humidity in the turbulent wake to or beyond the saturation value. If this condition exists, some of the water vapor will condense and a visible trail will form.
The existence of supercooled water at temperatures significantly colder than -40C is not a generally-accepted fact, but has been suspected by theorists for some time. Fig. 5 demonstrates that such supercooling of contrail condensate, whatever its purity, is possible.
400 NOAA-14 satellite scenes from four months of the year 1998 were analysed. Both regions show sufficient air traffic to produce an observable amount of contrails. Thus we are able to measure for the first time contrail frequencies in the tropics and compare it to a nearby mid latitudinal region. The annual average of the daily mean contrail cloud coverage is 0.13% for the Thailand region and about 0.25% for the Japan region. For both regions the contrail cover is largest during spring. The daily cycle shows surprisingly high contrail coverage during night in spite of lower air traffic densities during night time.
Persistent contrails, which in time degenerate into cirrus cloud, only form in air which is saturated with respect to ice and the conditions for their formation and persistence are reasonably well understood. There’s no prospect of a technological fix for that. If you fly through an ice-saturated region in the atmosphere, you’ll produce a persistent contrail.
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