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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OOohh, an Iggy in the winter thats a rare site.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24972
I have NO problem, with God/Science.
I have a problem with Pangean's un-warranted attack on Gamma.
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180. DDR
Quoting surfmom:
Sorry .... I see him everyday

I visited the tooth fairy yesterday and drank beer with fsm
Member Since: April 27, 2007 Posts: 14 Comments: 1742
Quoting pottery:
Post 166. BOOOOOOOO ! HIIISSSSSS !
BAD POST.



Thanks Pottery and Surfmom!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:
Post 166. BOOOOOOOO ! HIIISSSSSS !
BAD POST.



Science and God can co-exist, it's just that they use completely different methodologies: Religion is based on faith while science only trusts solid evidence. Scientific ideas are relatively frequently overturned while religion stays basicly the same.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2840
Quoting DDR:

Correct...'god is dead'
Sorry .... I see him everyday
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Well, looks like today is "Attack Gamma Day" On Dr Master's blog! LOL

I really thought we were able to post opinions here..but I guess not.
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Yes -- it's good to be back.... got to fly off for now -- the reason he's on the couch healing IS because of divine intervention -- no science proof needed
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173. DDR
Quoting smmcdavid:
Why? There is much more evidence for evolution than God.

Correct...'god is dead'
Member Since: April 27, 2007 Posts: 14 Comments: 1742
B/4 I go -- I appreciate, and I do agree with your opinion, but your opening line is sooo nasty -- why go there??? I want to read your opinion.... but I don't like reading the nasty....sorry
Quoting pangean:
"funny, some can agree to disagree and allow someone else to state their beliefs with respect.. and some have to resort to name calling....pity #161"

you better hope the body holds up 'cause you ain't got much going for you in the brains department.
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Quoting theshepherd:
Duh? Check the humidity.


The humidity? You mean the fat?
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2840
surfmom, it is so good to see you back here blogging away...so happy your son is getting better and better!
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Post 166. BOOOOOOOO ! HIIISSSSSS !
BAD POST.

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Quoting MichaelSTL:


In Siberia they are apparently so used to cold (-60 temps are common) that they don't even wear shirts outside. Really (LOL)
Duh? Check the humidity.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 10 Comments: 10226
I agree gamma - !!

I'm off - got domestic and some home nursing deeds to do. Good Night ALL
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Oh my goodness -- it is sooooo good to be back here....
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153 Well you and my spouse are in agreement..... me I just get cold -- but I know he's right.

Those folks who can go out in the cold like that -- they have internal heaters.... and I wasn't born with that. On the other hand, I can run in the heat,90degress +, barely sweating, while others around drop from heat exhaustion...... I am a desert rose LOL
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funny, some can agree to disagree and allow someone else to state their beliefs with respect.. and some have to resort to name calling....pity #161
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Michael - 100 percent agreement in regard to the fuels -- dirty is dirty and we humans are gross with our dirty habits -- any pollution that hurts the web of life should be reevaluated and changed -- we are all interconnected. There are many other energy means -- but Corporatacy and the Banksters have done a fine job curtailing these advances.

Also a small disagree - fossil fuels. According to some, Charles Walters of ACRES USA magazine (along with other scientists) and believes that oil is always being produced - basically hydro carbons under heat and pressure... that would challenge the idea that we are running out. what we do know is using the earth's blood makes her sick... we need another way. I will try and find the science article I read this in.....buried somewhere
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Quoting surfmom:
ahhhhh back in the 70's....... can I keep my brains and get back the chassis?


rofl!!!! yes, the 70's... I was hot stuff back then.. when I wasn't giving birth to one of the kids! LOL


Wish I had today's brains but yesterday's body! LOL
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Why? There is much more evidence for evolution than God.
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
Quoting smmcdavid:
And based on your last statement, that means there shouldn't be any religions..., right?


Religion is not law (well - for the free world anyway). Religion is faith.

One can say it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does in God creating the world in 7 days.
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Quoting smmcdavid:
Oh, you lost me on that one... I was a biology major...


I was a math major - there it has to be proven to be believed. Like the law that states that the number 1 is equal to the number .999999999999999999999999999 (infinity 9's). Try to find a number between 1 and .999999. Can't be done...
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And based on your last statement, that means there shouldn't be any religions..., right?
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
Oh, you lost me on that one... I was a biology major...
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
Quoting surfmom:
change the numbers on the thermostat????........my spouse, Mr energy mizer keeps ME freezing..... Even duck taped the damn thing.........tells me to put on a sweater.....I mean what man tells you to put on more clothes LOL

If you live in a climate where heating your house is nessecary for part of the year, it can be a waste of energy even to keep your house above 16C (60F), especially if heat leaks from your house. Really, think about it, wearing a T-shirt (inside or outside) in a non-tropical climate in winter is just wrong (yet many people where I live wear T-shirts outside when it's below freezing).
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2840
Does that mean we shouldn't believe in things like evolution?

Until someone proves it, yes. One can find holes in that theory if one searches hard enough - like any theory.
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I mean what man tells you to put on more clothes LOL
Action: Quote | Ignore User

certainly not me....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10513
ahhhhh back in the 70's....... can I keep my brains and get back the chassis?
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Quoting tornadofan:
142 - just no way to prove anything currenly, I believe. As you say, it needs to be researched more. Just don't like it when others (not you) slam others for not believing theories.

Not believing scientific law is bad. Not believe theories is good, until it is proven law.


I see your point, but some theories (not this one) will never be a law. Does that mean we shouldn't believe in things like evolution?
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
Don't wait for GW as if it's a good thing, 98% of its effects will be bad or devastating. I've read about 10 recent books on GW and they all point to a bad outcome if we do nothing.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2840
142 - just no way to prove anything currenly, I believe. As you say, it needs to be researched more. Just don't like it when others (not you) slam others for not believing theories.

Not believing scientific law is bad. Not believe theories is good, until it is proven law.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
change the numbers on the thermostat????........my spouse, Mr energy mizer keeps ME freezing..... Even duck taped the damn thing.........tells me to put on a sweater.....I mean what man tells you to put on more clothes LOL
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press... ha ha!
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
106 gamma
"I was around in the 70's"???
Yeah, sweetheart that's as far as I care to go also...Mucho Smileys
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 10 Comments: 10226
#136 -- what do you want? It's not an exact science. Do have any better way to analyze data from 400,000 years ago?
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
A "doomsday vault" is opening in Svalbard. Thousands of plant seeds have been stored as a "Noah's Ark" in a secure location. This is for emergency use in case of a GW emergency and will withstand hundreds of years of earthquakes, flooding, and even a nuclear attack.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2840
Seems like the cooks in the kitchen (us) think they can fix a boiling soup by adding more ingredients instead of lowering the flame
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dude....three years ago she had a hysterectomy....they swore this temperature crap would stop...it hasn't....I want my money back....
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10513
We can't even get the biosphere fool proof -- this Geoengineering does not please me.

Even with seeds -- we are finding lots of trouble with the bio engineered food products given to horses -- the horses are showing some problems - serious allergies, digestion problems etc..... many horse owners avoid these foods completely..... seeing similar problems w/some dogs as well. Science tells us it's all good..........well, that is not what I'm seeing
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting barryweather:
# 114 Yellowstone is due for an eruption. That would be bad though. Shepherd....Didn't you mention the hotspot moving under a more stable area? Does anyone have a link for that data?

Yellowstone is not expected to erupt for another 25,000 years or so. It has experienced about 150 prior large eruptions, and the last one was abot 640,000 years ago. Domes, however, are still rising in the Yellowstone area.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2840
Quoting smmcdavid:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_core

Ice core info


Interesting...

Many materials can appear in an ice core. Layers can be measured in several ways to identify changes in composition. Small meteorites may be embedded in the ice. Volcanic eruptions leave identifiable ash layers. Dust in the core can be linked to increased desert area or wind speed.

Isotopic analysis of the ice in the core can be linked to temperature and global sea level variations. Analysis of the air contained in bubbles in the ice can reveal the palaeocomposition of the atmosphere, in particular CO2 variations. There are great problems relating the dating of the included bubbles to the dating of the ice, since the bubbles only slowly "close off" after the ice has been deposited.
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Quoting presslord:
I'm gonna lock her out of the thermostat....
Amigo...We all know there is no such thing as hot flashes. It's just her inner child playing with matches...And if you burn me on this one, I'll never speak to you again...
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 10 Comments: 10226
Quoting tornadofan:


Is it just faith that it should be believed?


It's called science, technology... it's not always right, but it's then again it's research.
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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