Geoengineering: a bad idea whose time may come

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:46 PM GMT on December 19, 2008

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Yesterday, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), climate change scientists discussed the risks and benefits of deliberately altering Earth's climate through "geoengineering". One measure of the concern scientists have about Earth's climate could be gauged by the standing-room only crowd of 200 that packed the presentation room. The eleven speakers at the session laid out some radical and dangerous ideas for deliberately altering Earth's climate. They uniformly cautioned that the uncertainties and dangers of implementing any of these schemes was high, but that geoengineering may be necessary if efforts to control greenhouse gases fail and the climate begins to undergo rapid and destructive changes.

David Keith presented the results of a week-long workshop held earlier this year that brought together ten of the world's experts on geoengineering. He emphasized that even if we stopped emitting CO2 today, the possibility of dangerous climate change capable of causing a "climate emergency" may still be higher than 1%, thanks to the tremendous inertia of the heat stored in the oceans. Of course, we're not going to stop emitting CO2 today. Dealing with a future climate emergency is technically feasible, if we inject large quantities of sulfur into the tropical stratosphere via aircraft, artillery, or tethered balloons with hoses. Sulfur injection into the stratosphere is considered to be the leading candidate for geoengineering, since nature has done this many times via volcanic eruptions, and we have some idea of what to expect. As I reported in a blog post earlier this year, the idea is being championed by Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen.

One problem with injecting sulfur into the stratosphere is that it tends to settle back to the surface in about ten months. A. V. Eliseev explained that in order to keep global temperatures under control in a world with ever-increasing CO2 emissions, we would have to inject an ever increasing amount of sulfur into the atmosphere. His computer model results showed that if a funding lapse occurred in, say, the year 2075, the atmosphere would rapidly warm by 5-9°F (3-5°C) over most of North America, Europe, and Asia, within a decade of cessation of the geoengineering efforts. The resulting shock to ecosystems would be extremely dangerous to civilization.

Richard Turco of UCLA estimated that injecting enough sulfur in the stratosphere to properly geoengineer the climate would require 3000 aircraft sorties per day, and cost $50-$100 billion per year. Model results he presented showed a large amount of uncertainty as to what might happen, and he cautioned that there was "no guarantee of success, and failure would be catastrophic".

A. Robrock of Rutgers disagreed with Dr. Turco, and estimated that the cost of injecting the required amount of sulfur into the stratosphere would by less that $5 billion per year, provided the U.S. military would let scientists use 167 of the existing fleet of 522 F15C Eagle jets to do the job. After all, he reasoned, why wouldn't the military want to use their aircraft to confront our enemy (global warming?) High-altitude fighter jets would be required to do the job, since ordinary jetliners cannot fly high enough to penetrate into the stratosphere. He cautioned that such a fleet of aircraft would have to fly three missions per day, and their exhaust gases would probably cause significant destruction of Earth's protective ozone layer. Furthermore, modeling studies show that we don't know what size particles to make, where to put the sulfur, and what uneven effects the efforts might have on Earth's climate. He concluded, "there are many reasons not to do geoengineering".

A more ecological approach to geoengineering was presented by Phil Rasch of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and by Jim Haywood of Britain's Met Office Hadley Center. They proposed building a fleet of wind-powered ships known as Fletter vessels (Figure 1) that would spray large amounts of sea salt into the air in regions where there are existing stratocumulus clouds. The sea salt would act as nuclei around which moisture could condense, making the clouds more reflective. A fleet of approximately 66 of these vessels would be required to seed the clouds over 30% of the globe, to balance a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, they cautioned that while this solution would be relatively cheap, the technology to implement this scheme would be difficult. Furthermore, studies performed with climate models showed that the resulting climate shift would not be uniform, and many areas would experience drought. In particular, Dr. Haywood showed the possibility of severe drought in the Amazon rain forest and in the Southwest U.S.


Figure 1. A conceptual picture of Flettner spray vessel with Thom fences. These wind-driven vessels have vertical spinning cylinders that use the Magnus effect to produce forces perpendicular to the wind direction. Anton Flettner built a ship using this technology that crossed the Atlantic in 1926. The proposed geoengineering Flettner vessels would sail over ocean regions covered with stratocumulus clouds and make the existing clouds whiter by spraying small salt particles into the air. Image is copyright J. MacNeill 2006. For more information on these vessels, see Salter at al., 2008, "Sea-going hardware for the cloud albedo method of reversing global warming", Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society A, 366, Number 1882, pp3989-4006, 13 November 2008.

Katharine Ricke of Carnagie Mellon University cautioned that the foreign policy community has virtually no awareness of geoengineering issues, and would be totally unprepared for the possibility of some country deciding to unilaterally attempt a geoengineering program on their own. She suggested that an effort needs to be made to promote international agreements on geoengineering, perhaps including binding treaties.

Jeff Masters

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Well, dear Orca, if it's any comfort... I'll be shoveling horse poop in a few hours -- honestly though much prefer my shoveling activity to yours.... I'll be shovelling in shorts & a t-shirt
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
brb off to shovel
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Quoting presslord:
Ah....Macon, GA....home of snow shovels...my first wife...and many other useless objects....


To funny :)
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Quoting surfmom:
That will work Orca -- cept I have no appropriate garments for your neck of the woods....


Ummmmmmmmmm (thought deleted)
I also have Rum and a fireplace.
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Ooooops this is a Sunny Sunday -- better lock up my creative imagination

Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Ah....Macon, GA....home of snow shovels...my first wife...and many other useless objects....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
Quoting surfmom:
A snow shovel is a tool of torture... unlike a sand shovel which is a tool of fun


This is not going to be a fun day :(
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That will work Orca -- cept I have no appropriate garments for your neck of the woods....
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Quoting presslord:
Whatthehell is a "snow shovel"?!?!?!?!?!


Not sure, bought it off the Internet.. from some place called Macon GA, apparently they will need them this year also.
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A snow shovel is a tool of torture... unlike a sand shovel which is a tool of fun
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Quoting Orcasystems:
A foot of snow..and still falling :(

Complete Blog Refresh
Mirror Site
Quoting surfmom:
Orca - surely you can offer me something better then that!!!


Umm I have tequila :)
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Portlight has the BEST parties .... just want to know .... who wore the Santa costume?????
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Aquak9 -----Wooooohooooooooooo Happy Winter Solstice!!!! Was hoping I could find you this morning!!!
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Whatthehell is a "snow shovel"?!?!?!?!?!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
Orca - surely you can offer me something better then that!!!
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Quoting presslord:
post # 362 gets my vote as the most brilliant, well reasoned post of the year....


You guys are still talking politics?
Anyone that bored and have a spare snow shovel.. come on up.
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A foot of snow..and still falling :(
I even had to shovel a trail for the dogs to go outside... bichon/shitsu crosses are to low to the ground

Complete Blog Refresh
Mirror Site
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post # 362 gets my vote as the most brilliant, well reasoned post of the year....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
365. DDR
Quoting pottery:
Morning all.
Rained all night long.
Sun is trying valiantly to show its Smiling face this morning.
2.5" in the last 2 days.
The lawn is a mess of mud. Being eaten by some kind of Fish ??
Or could it be Water Voles? RTLSLK thinks it might be.
The chickens are not helping matters at all.
They are scratching up the place, using their claws like pickaxes.
A Severe Response is being planned.
Any good ideas ??

Hey pottery,i've recorded 5.25 inches( trinidad) in the past 4 days, looks like fine weather until latter this week,weird weather don't you think?The ground was shacking here,may around 4.0 in magnitude.
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Been wandering around this blog seeing some strange stuff, but at least no threatening hurricanes. Hope to do some sailing in January. Soon it will be time to shake out the wrinkles in the main. Went skiing yesterday and it was cold but the snow was good, though thin. I liked the forecast Gray and Koltzbach have given for next season.
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Pottery- one word:

Chainsaw.

Solves ALL my problems.
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Quoting 1redcat:
That is not just a bad idea - it's an insane idea and a waste of money. But you'll have the right administration for that sort of nonsense soon. Hang tight.
Actually I think u just got rid of the "right" admin for that sort of nonsense. By that I mean the type that'll keep on doing the same destructive nonsense then when it's too late try some last ditch effort, because by then it'd look like logic. . . .
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That is not just a bad idea - it's an insane idea and a waste of money. But you'll have the right administration for that sort of nonsense soon. Hang tight.
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pottery, i thought this was your dry season and its 52 and foggy here in Zephyrhills FL oh yeah Good Morning All all most forgot.
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I like the Christmases that start off cold, with that winter bite in the air, then warm up to some delightful temperature just below 80, so the kids can run outside and play with their new bikes and other toys after Christmas dinner. I don't know how much of a bite we'll get, but at least it doesn't look like it'll be drizzling, which is good.

However, the more important forecast is for Thursday NIGHT, because it needs to be clear and preferably cold so that the annual Boxing Day Junkanoo parade can go off properly.
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Excellent job everyone with the Bridge City Christmas Party last night...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
Morning, vort.

Looks like cold day all around.

This morning the sun is shining and wind is minimal. So long as the jet doesn't dip, the weather in Nassau will stay fine.

Stay safe, everyone, and WARM!!!!
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Morning all.
Rained all night long.
Sun is trying valiantly to show its Smiling face this morning.
2.5" in the last 2 days.
The lawn is a mess of mud. Being eaten by some kind of Fish ??
Or could it be Water Voles? RTLSLK thinks it might be.
The chickens are not helping matters at all.
They are scratching up the place, using their claws like pickaxes.
A Severe Response is being planned.
Any good ideas ??
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting vortfix:
Good morning all.




How about them Ravens? :D
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Quoting MissNadia:
Morning Cotillion
ILM is 62
Light Rain
Forecast for 67 and Rain
However tomorrow is going to be 40F/27F !!!!


Ouchie. Fairly warm today as Britain goes, and will be for the next few days. Looks like it's going to drop some next week, though.
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Morning Cotillion
ILM is 62
Light Rain
Forecast for 67 and Rain
However tomorrow is going to be 40F/27F !!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Good morning. :)
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don't be fooled about the statistics. If and i mean if there is any substanence to it ;It will change . we are in a cooling cycle . these statistics will in 30 years or three decades show a rise so there isn'nt anyhting new nor is any of this data conclusive. you would have to study these same statistics over a 1,000 years to be conclusive .!!!!!!!!!!
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Hello,
It is certainly beside me how these people that have been skawlking about climate change and the effect man has had on it and now they talk about changing it on purpose.
They just can't get enough . Only and idiot would change it purposely. Anything you try to do on purpose the earth and her system will counter in a big way. it would be suicide to do so . I don't believe they are as intelligent as they proclaim nor as anyone would want them to be if they try this foulishness.
The Untited States Air Force has been fooling with the atmosphere for 30 years or so trying to excite the Ioniphere to simulate the effects of the solar winds .Making the atmosphere react in a way that the ions appear to be when the solar winds cause the northern lights.Could be this has had an effect on the climate itself.
the solar winds don't always create these lights,but yet the Air Force in it's wisdom has been trying to duplicate it in Alaska and in Austrailia.
To mess with that inwhitch will counter no matter whatt hey do is plain foulish and I believe it is not in the interest of sience nor is it in our intrest .
Maybe one day when or if we ever have the ability to go elsewhere in the Universe it might be in the intrest of science then and only then would it be advisable to do such things.
It is my hope that these people come to thier sences about such things . This is my earth as well as yours ,but if these people have these kinds of ambitions maybe they don't need a country !!Maybe it is time to take away the finacial base thes kind of people have to operate.
Have a good day .
oh yea ;if you talk about it then the next step is to do it.!!!!
Dew
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Wow Orca must be angry. It's snowing like crazy here. Last time we had this much snow must've been the blizzard of '96 or maybe we have more I can't tell. Anyways here's some pics. and there's atleast 5-10 cm more now then when these pics. were taken. Btw I live in Victoria on the island.

Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
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342. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Perth Tropical Cyclone Warning Center
Tropical Cyclone Advice Number TWENTY-NINE
EX-TROPICAL CYCLONE BILLY
3:40 PM WDT December 21 2008
=====================================

At 3:00 pm WDT, Ex-Tropical Cyclone Billy [997 hPa] located at 15.3S 125.5E or 460 kms northeast of Broome and 165 kms southwest of Kalumburu has 10 minute sustained winds of 25 knots with gusts of 45 knots. The tropical low is reported as moving west at 4 knots.

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Billy is moving across the Kimberley and is expected to move off the coast late Sunday night or early Monday then redevelop into a tropical cyclone during Monday. Gales may develop between Kalumburu and Beagle Bay overnight or during Monday and may extend down the coast to Broome and Wallal late on Monday or Tuesday.

Tropical Cyclone Watches/Warning
=============================
A Cyclone WARNING is current for coastal and island communities from Kalumburu to Beagle Bay.

A Cyclone WATCH is current for coastal areas from Beagle Bay to Wallal.

Tropical Cyclone Technical Bulletin
==================================
12 HRS: 15.3S 124.7E - 30 knots (TROPICAL LOW)
24 HRS: 15.4S 123.8E - 40 knots (CAT 1)
48 HRS: 16.3S 121.5E - 55 knots (CAT 2)
72 HRS: 17.4S 118.6E - 75 knots (CAT 3)

REMARKS:
Ex-TC Billy continues to track steadily to the west over the north Kimberley. The system has retained excellent structure over land. It is expected to remain in a low shear environment and should redevelop quickly on Monday as it moves offshore into an area of favourable SSTs. Shear and ocean heat conditions are
expected to remain favourable for at least the next three days. The mid-level ridge to the south of ex-Billy is stronger than was previously forecast by NWP and the models maintain the strength of the ridge through the
next four days. Of equal or greater significance to the future motion of the system will be the development and movement of the low currently in the Gulf of Carpentaria. This system is expected to track steadily west over the base of the Top End of the Northern Territory and reach the NT/WA border on Tuesday night. NWP now portrays this sytem as having enough strength to erode the peripheral
ridge to the east of 03U/05S and this is likely the primary reason for the change in model forecast motion from southwest to westwards on Wednesday and Thursday.

If this trailing system is not strong enough to erode the peripheral ridge then a southwest track towards the coast is likely, and so the possibility of a coastal landfall is still significant.
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338. MichaelSTL 3:04 AM GMT on December 21, 2008

Wow. That was cool. Thank you for that.
Go Winter! Go snow!
we got 8.5 inches friday into saturday and 4-8inches for tomorrow. I made a 9 foot tall snow pile...using only a shovel i might add...and i intend to make a massive igloo. Of course every day from wednesday to next sunday we're going to make it in to the upper 30's to mid 40's...so i'll enjoy it while it lasts.
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Quoting all4hurricanes:

you're kidding right that's amazing


They have, its pretty amazing the machine they use to do it is about the size of 2 briefcases. I saw it on Science channel not to long ago.
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Great comment MichaelSTL.

Thank you.
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A bit off-topic, but has anyone else noticed the correlation between sunspot-minima and major volcanic eruptions in the years 1950 to 1993 (haven't researched farther back). Not perfect but looks like 6 of 7, far above random probability. Not sure what it means, but interesting none the less.
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335. Skyepony (Mod)
Oh & Yikes!

AF: Ian S F Jones, Ocean Technology Group University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
AB: The remarkable doubling of the productivity of the land over the last 50 years raises the question of opportunities to follow suit in the sea. The rapidly rising population makes increasing demands on food supply and the disposal of waste in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning It is well known that the supply of nutrients to the photic zone of the ocean limits primary production and this limitation can be removed by the addition of nutrients. The surface waters of the ocean are typically in the photic zone for a decade and their initial quota of nutrients are supplemented by cyanobacteria, atmospheric deposition and river inflows. Together with upwelling these nutrients support about 10,000GtC of new primary production per year. Extra nutrients can be sourced from the thermocline, from enhancing the diazotrophs or by chemically transforming elements on the land or in the atmosphere. Using thermocline nutrients to enhance productivity but are first order neutral for carbon sequestration. Diazotrophs seem restricted to temperate and tropical waters and need phosphate and other nutrients. The increased nitrogen they provide is expected to lead to more carbon storage in the ocean. The macronutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus and the micronutrients have all been shown to be beneficial. With increased new primary production we expect increased sustainable fish production but the species composition will depend on the success of recruitment.
UR: http://www.otg.usyd.edu.au
DE: 1622 Earth system modeling (1225)
DE: 4255 Numerical modeling (0545, 0560)
DE: 4800 OCEANOGRAPHY: BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL (0460)
SC: Ocean Sciences [OS]
MN: 2008 Fall Meeting


[Comments. This is the guy who wants to pump urea into the offshore waters to increase productivity. The environmental groups in the Philippines weren't as enthusiastic about it and that project ended rather abruptly. Last I heard, he was trying to get Oman or one of the Persian Gulf states to agree to a field project. Oman seems to be in the thick of it: ocean fertilization and olivine sequestration. This abstract is too vague to tell what it is about. AG]


Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 162 Comments: 37476
334. Skyepony (Mod)
A little more from my vicarious trip to the AGU shin dig, on geoengineering even..splitting stuff to make the ocean more basic so it can carbon sink more effectively..

AF: Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz (off-campus), L-645, LLNL 7000 East Ave., Livermore, CA 94550, United States
AB: Various schemes have been proposed to increase air-to-sea CO2 transfer and storage, including the addition of alkalinity to the ocean. Examples include the addition of: Ca(OH)2 derived from the thermal calcination of limestone (Kheshgi, 1995), NaOH from the electrochemical splitting of salt (House et al., 2007), and CaCO3 to carbonate-undersaturated waters (Harvey, 2008). Diluted in the ocean (to pH1/2O2+H2+Ca(HCO3)2aq. Laboratory experiments showed that such a system can generate excess alkalinity and elevated pH in seawater that subsequently allowed the absorption of 0.8 mM atmospheric CO2. Thus at larger scales, wind-, wave-, or solar-powered, fixed/floating platforms at the shoreline, in coastal waters, or in the open ocean might be employed to electrochemically increase ocean alkalinity. Such platforms would then: 1) enhance the ocean's natural absorption of atmospheric CO2, 2) help neutralize or offset the effects of ongoing ocean acidification, via the calcium hydroxide and/or bicarbonate production, and 3) generate carbon-negative H2 in the ratio 22kg CO2 absorbed/kg H2 produced.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 162 Comments: 37476

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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