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Solar Geoengineering Spray Cools, Heals

Is the Earth getting too hot for comfort? Last year’s historic Paris climate agreement set the goal of keeping global temperatures no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

You might as well think big - it's called geoengineering.

One drastic idea is solar geoengineering — injecting light-reflecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the planet. Researchers know that large amounts of aerosols can significantly cool the planet; the effect has been observed after large volcanic eruptions. But these sulfate aerosols also carry significant risks. The biggest known risk is that they produce sulfuric acid in the stratosphere, which damages ozone. Since the ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun, its depletion can lead to increased rates of skin cancer, eye damage, and other adverse consequences.

Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have identified an aerosol for solar geoengineering that may be able to cool the planet while simultaneously repairing ozone damage...

“Essentially, we ended up with an antacid for the stratosphere,” said [Frank Keutsch, the Stonington Professor of Engineering and Atmospheric Science at SEAS and professor of chemistry and chemical biology].

Through extensive modeling of stratospheric chemistry, the team found that calcite, a constituent of limestone, could counter ozone loss by neutralizing emissions-borne acids in the atmosphere, while also reflecting light and cooling the planet.

SF fans were treated to a description of a similar climate-tailoring effort in The Mote in God's Eye, the 1974 novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, which used an actual volcano for the dispersal process. Now that puts the "geo" into "geoengineering"!

Potter was doing most of the talking and all the pointing. "Those twin volcanoes; d'ye see them, Mr. Renner? D'ye see yon boxlike structures near the peak of each one? They're atmosphere control. When yon volcanoes belch gas, the maintenance posts fire jets of tailored algae into the air stream. Without them our atmosphere would soon be foul again."
(Read more about Atmosphere Control)

Update 06-28-2022:See the entry for Pina2bo from Termination Shock (2021) by Neal Stephenson for a method of actually seeding the upper atmosphere with particles intended to decrease the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the Earth. End update.

Via Harvard.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/7/2016)

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