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The largest solar geoengineering program in the world is about to be launched in the US within the next few weeks. The program is from the Harvard University and costs US$20 million. The scientists behind the program will send injections of aerosol 20km into the stratosphere with the hope of accessing the feasibility of the technique as a way of fixing global warming.
The whole purpose of the experiment is to simulate, safely, the cooling effects in the atmosphere of a big volcanic eruption. This is the largest program in solar engineering to ever have been considered, with scientists intending to undertake two dispersals of small-scale, by 2022. The first of the dispersals will put water out into the stratosphere, while the second disperses particles of calcium carbonate. Scientists hope that in the future more tests will be undertaken to include seeding the upper atmosphere with either aluminum oxide or diamonds.
Tests Will Mimic Natural Alterations Caused By Volcanic Eruption
Techniques such as these copies the natural alterations made to the typical radiation balance of Earth, which is generally seen following a volcanic eruption of large scale. One example was said to be the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 when the global temperature dropped by 0.5C.
Another example was when Mount Tambora erupted in 1815 the Earth was cooled and results were more sinister as it resulted in crop failure, disease and famine. In 2013 a study from the Met Office gave the warning that if fine particles are dispersed into the stratosphere there could be a drought in North Africa that would be disastrous.
Unpredictable And Dangerous Results Bring Opposition
Due to the unpredictability and the possibility of the range of results being dangerous, the Harvard University program has been met with some opposition from those in the scientific community. There is the fear that technical fixes which are unproven may take the focus from mitigation efforts that have had proven results.
One of the United Nations intergovernmental panel lead authors, Kevin Trenberth, said that solar geoengineering wasn’t the answer. He went on to say that by cutting the incoming solar radiation it has an effect on the weather, along with the hydrological cycle, and could bring about drought along with causing destabilization and even war. Trenberth added that there may be many side effects and pointed out that the models are not good enough to be able to predict the outcomes.
The Harvard scientists behind the program have acknowledged that geoengineering should be seen to work alongside the reduction of emissions instead of it being a substitute. However, they have said that it is imperative to find out if geoengineering would work, in the event that all else fails and there is the need to use it.
The atmospheric sciences professor, Frank Keutsch, in charge of the program said that the deployment of the solar geoengineering system was a prospect that terrified him. He also said that people shouldn’t choose to be ignorant about knowledge in such a situation as this.