The planet is hot and getting hotter. But while most plans to use geoengineering to alter the weather have been rather hypothetical, now a pair of Harvard engineers have announced that they intend to spray thousands of tons of particles into the sky to block the sun's rays—within the coming year.
The pair plan to launch a balloon to ascend 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico, before pumping out tens or hundreds of kilograms of sulphate aerosols into the sky. The idea is that the particles will reflect sunlight back into space, helping decrease the temperature of the Earth.
In theory, they're replicating the effects they've observed as volcanoes spew out similar sulphates into the atmosphere. In practice... well, there is no practice, because nobody's ever done it before. David Keith, one of the scientists, explained to the Guardian:
"The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale. The direct risk is very small."
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Yeah, right. But however confidently he says that, in reality he doesn't know. It's hardly surprising, then, that the plan has its fair share of opposition, from scientists who believe that the experiment could have unpredictable—and therefore quite possibly negative—effects. Still, that doesn't seem to bother Keith or his partner James Anderson too much. In fact, they're keen to push forward with the project and plan to put it into action within the next twelve months.
In truth, it's difficult to decide if the idea is a good one or not. It's easy to speculate about how effective geoengineering projects can be without ever actually putting one into action. So in that sense, it's good to see someone bite the bullet and give it a try—here's hoping it works out. [The Guardian]
Image by davedehetre under Creative Commons license