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Bill Gates Funds Seawater-Spraying Cloud Machines 403

Posted by Soulskill
from the blue-sky-of-death dept.
lucidkoan writes "Environmentalists have long argued about whether geoengineering (using technology to alter the climate) is a good way to tackle climate change. But the tactic has some heavy hitters on its side, including Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder recently announced plans to invest $300,000 into research for machines that suck up seawater and spray it into the air, seeding white clouds that reflect rays of sunlight away from Earth. The machines, developed by a San Francisco-based research group called Silver Lining, turn seawater into tiny particles that can be shot up over 3,000 feet in the air. The particles increase the density of clouds by increasing the amount of nuclei contained within."
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Bill Gates Funds Seawater-Spraying Cloud Machines

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  • What could (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:37PM (#32162230)

    OK, let's ignore for a moment the fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas responsible for up to 76% of the greenhouse effect (as opposed to CO2 which is responsible for 1/3) of that. Let's also ignore the magical energy source required to pump all this water into the air. What could possibly go wrong? Where can I buy stock? /sarcasm

    • by Brett Buck (811747) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:54PM (#32162514)

      Let's also ignore the magical energy source required to pump all this water into the air.

            I suggest unicorns on a treadmill.

              Brett

    • Re:What could (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:55PM (#32162530) Homepage

      OK, let's ignore for a moment the fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas responsible for up to 76% of the greenhouse effect (as opposed to CO2 which is responsible for 1/3) of that.

      Water vapor traps in a lot of heat on the earth, but water vapor in the form of clouds reflects a lot of energy; raising albedo by seeding clouds for a net loss of heat could actually work. Better yet the amount of water vapor in the air is naturally regulated, so excess water vapor and clouds are not so difficult to remove as CO2.

      Let's also ignore the magical energy source required to pump all this water into the air.

      Clean Coal, with the magic of Mr. Clean! =D

      What could possibly go wrong? Where can I buy stock? /sarcasm

      Yeah, cus Bill Gates has never been wrong before! Wait, what was that about a chasm? Yaaaaaaaah!

      • by berzerke (319205)

        ...let's ignore for a moment the fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas responsible for up to 76% of the greenhouse effect (as opposed to CO2 which is responsible for 1/3)

        Lets also ignore 76 + 33 = 109%. Let's also ignore methane, another potent greenhouse gas.

        ...but water vapor in the form of clouds reflects a lot of energy...

        I actually studied this as part of my Master's. IIRC, the number is around 13 watts per square meter overall (this is a net loss of energy, aka cooling). This number includes t

        • Re:What could (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mollog (841386) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:43PM (#32163134)

          I actually studied this as part of my Master's. IIRC, the number is around 13 watts per square meter overall (this is a net loss of energy, aka cooling). This number includes the net heat gain from the clouds at night. (Clouds at night prevent IR radiation from escaping into space, thereby warming the Earth.)

          Alrighty, crank up those machines after the night air has cooled, stop them before sundown.

          What Gates is funding is research. All the hypothetical problems suggested here are valid, but will be tested during the research.

    • Re:What could (Score:5, Informative)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:55PM (#32162536) Journal
      How were you modded insightful? The simple fact is, that the h20 is not the issue. It goes up, it comes down. In addition, when water is in the form of CLOUDS, it COOLS the planet. It is when it has a high vapor, but not enough to form clouds, that you get warming. OTH, the CO2 is an issue because it stays around and around and around. As such, a VERY small amount goes a long ways. So, the global warming issue is just garbage.

      I will say that there are OTHER possible side effects, for example, the clouds WILL block sun from getting to the crops, so there will be less food. And I am sure that there are other ones that are not thought about.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ao_42 (1808558)
      Water vapor isn't considered to have much radiative warming potential mainly because the Earth's emission spectrum is already saturated at the wavelengths at which water absorbs (See Houghton's Global Physical Climatology text for a detailed discussion). -- from a student in meteorology & climatology at Cornell
    • Re:What could (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:56PM (#32162556)

      Water vapor concentration depends directly on the temperature of the air, and has a life cycle of about 2 weeks. In other words, it is not part of a positive feedback loop. If you pump too much into the air, it just rains out. Once the sun goes down, water vapor condensates out.

      You can make Global Warming worse by adding water vapor to the air, but if enough sunlight gets reflected back out through cloud formation, it's a good deal. The cost of putting enough water into the air though.... is a different matter. Not sure if that's a cost-effective way of going about it.

    • I guess desalinization plants are SO last century.
    • Re:What could (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yariv (1107831) <<yariv.yaari> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:02PM (#32162634)

      I know it's slashdot, but I would still like to point out your remarks have nothing to do with the technique described. Besides that, 76% + 1/3 > 1, so you should go over your numbers again...

      They talk about producing clouds, not water vapor. Clouds are made of liquid water in tiny drops, forming from vapor around some sort of nuclei, it's actually mentioned even in the summary! The energy issue need not be that much of a problem. Energy is needed, but how much? Probably nothing relevant to global warming, so it's just a matter of cost.

      The problem of salt is also insignificant, given the task is done deep in the ocean. The salt will not get carried for 5,000 kilometers without a huge drop in concentration, if at all.

      Having said all that, further tests must be carried out, of course, we still have no backup planet. From what I understand, that is the whole point in investing in research.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jasonwc (939262)

      This idea is discussed more thoroughly in Steve Levitt's book, SuperFreakonomics. The idea apparently thought up by several individuals in a patent-holding company called Intellectual Ventures (IV) which has a number of noteworthy academics and scientists. I suggest you read more about the idea before rejecting it. It is not surprising that Bill Gates has invested in the idea given that the creator of Intellectual Ventures was a high-level executive at Microsoft, and friends with Bill Gates. Gates has inves

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:37PM (#32162232) Homepage Journal
    finally, he's acting like a proper evil mastermind...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I think MS has finally found a use for all those Zunes ... seawater-squirting cloud machines, now with 'SquirtsForSure'!
    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>finally, he's acting like a proper evil mastermind...

      A couple weeks ago I was telling a class of community college students I was lecturing to that Bill Gates was planning on doing this, and gave a proper evil mastermind laugh, but none of them thought it was funny.

      Kids these days...

      But yeah, this is old news. Most people learned about it from Super Freakonomics. Maybe it's news that he's actually going to do it, I guess.

      The real debate is coming... who gets to control the weather?

  • Hmmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by Spad (470073) <slashdot@sp[ ]co.uk ['ad.' in gap]> on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:38PM (#32162242) Homepage

    I believe the phrase is "What could possibly go wrong..."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Mamaeh (525022)

      I believe the phrase is "What could possibly go wrong..."

      Pehaps "what clouds possibly go wrong..."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dkleinsc (563838)

      Actually, I think a better phrase for this is "Bill, I think you misunderstood all that talk about cloud computing."

  • This reminds me of an application user who has no idea what they're doing. Once things start going wrong and the app starts doing unexpected things, they just try a bunch of random actions and hope that by pushing enough buttons and clicking enough things on the screen, they will eventually solve the problem.
    • by david_thornley (598059) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:45PM (#32162400)

      Precisely! On the other hand, we've rather fallen into climate engineering, and we really have no choice but to blunder around not knowing what we're doing. If we could quick scrub carbon dioxide from the air, and put it back to what it was in 1850 and keep it there, we could take this slowly and with proper experimentation.

    • Isn't that how genetic algorithms start out?

      But anyway, get a thousand start-ups trying a thousand different compensation mechanisms (that's what this is, after all, not doing anything about the underlying cause). Some fail spectacularly. Some don't really do anything cost-effectively. A small few are successful, and change the world.

      Who knows. For $300k, no big deal. Worth a shot.
  • Undersea computing?

  • Fatal flaw (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:41PM (#32162302) Homepage Journal

    The Microsoft founder recently announced plans to invest $300,000 into research for machines that suck up seawater and spray it into the air, seeding white clouds that reflect rays of sunlight away from Earth.

    Unfortunately, the machines are solar-powered.

  • How about... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:43PM (#32162342) Journal
    How about we fund research into not messing up the biosphere instead? Reforestation and pollution cleanup will go a lot further towards restoring nature's balance than spraying a bunch of water into the air.
    • Re:How about... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:50PM (#32162460)

      The problem is, nature is never in a "balance". Forest fires, wild fires, volcanos, tsunamis, global cooling, ice ages, global warming, desertification, floods, forestation, those things all happened before, during and after man.

      I'm from South Dakota, so I've looked alot at the geological history there. It used to be under the sea, under glaciers, partially under glaciers, burned by wild fires that crossed the entire region, forested, then less forested, it used to have volcanos, it's been covered by ash from other volcanos, it will be covered by ash when Yellowstone cooks off.

    • This isn't "we," it's "he." He is funding this research with his own money. You don't have a say in it.

      Furthermore, "we" know how to reduce carbon emissions. But doing so has a tremendous economic cost--one so high it won't ever happen under democratic rule.

  • by deathcow (455995) * on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:44PM (#32162362)

    ...700 feet into the air

    • That's what happens when you sleep face down after eating a super burrito.
    • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:04PM (#32162678)
      This Eskimo is having engine problems, so he takes his car into the mechanic to investigate. While it's being worked on, he wonders next door to the ice cream parlor and has a vanilla ice cream cone. When he returns, the mechanic solemnly says to him "It looks like you blew a seal,", to which the Eskimo replies, "No, no, no... I was just eating ice cream!"
  • I just don't see why we can't have lawsuits over the the stuff that caused the warming in the first place?

    Oh yeah, all those people fighting to not have CO2 be a controlled emission.

    Seriously, there are far to many people on this planet and we need to be careful of everything we do. It all has consequences.

  • As someone that has lived near the ocean for his entire life; I am not exactly happy about having salt infused water vapor in the air. If you live near the shore, you have to deal with house paint, car finishes, wooden surfaces decaying, wearing away and failing...

    Anybody from an area of the world that has salt applied to their roads in the winter care to share stories about salt corroding their car's undercarriage?

    • by Seedy2 (126078)

      Like dipping your car in acid... oh wait.

    • Anybody from an area of the world that has salt applied to their roads in the winter care to share stories about salt corroding their car's undercarriage?

      Hasn't been a problem for me at all. I'm driving my wife's old Civic for commuting, it's a mid-90s model with some 220k miles on it. No problems with rust or corrosion on it, despite having been driven on wet salty roads each winter for a decade and a half.

    • Anybody from an area of the world that has salt applied to their roads in the winter care to share stories about salt corroding their car's undercarriage?

      How about someone who's worked at a facility that extracts salt from seawater using solar evaporation? Just parking my car out front a couple of hundred feet from the nearest evaporation pond for three years was enough to make it rust. Even metal inside the vehicle has rusted to the point that I can't adjust the passenger seat anymore.

    • Anybody from an area of the world that has salt applied to their roads in the winter care to share stories about salt corroding their car's undercarriage?

      I was in this car once, you see, and the floor had a hole in it, on account of the rust from all that road salt.

      Fascinating stuff, right? I don't usually bring it up because it's sure to threadjack and derail any ongoing conversation with the implacably captivating qualities of such an anecdote, but you brought it up.

  • Vaporware (Score:5, Funny)

    by owlnation (858981) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:47PM (#32162424)
    Vaporware -- the perfect business for him to be investing in! He has some experience.
  • From tfa (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shoehornjob (1632387)

    Many methods of cooling the planet, collectively known as geoengineering, have been proposed. They include rockets to deploy millions of mirrors in the stratosphere and artificial trees to suck carbon dioxide from the air.

    You're joking...right? Rockets deploying millions oof mirrors into the stratosphere? Artificial trees??? What about the real one's which do the job just fine? Seriously though, who let the mad scientist out of his lab?

  • by wonkavader (605434) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:50PM (#32162464)

    The article says that 3 ships is nothing. We need $7 billion worth of ships to stop the temperature from increasing.

    WHAT? We can stop warming in its tracks for just $7 billion? That's very little money.

    • Operational cost (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wonkavader (605434)

      Sorry, responding to my own post: I wonder what the operational cost would be for this. What fuel are these things supposed to use? Shoving all that water into the air would take a crapload of power.

      They can't take fossil fuels -- that would be a logistics issue, and would be counter-productive (though possibly still the most efficient approach).

      I have this image of 3000 nuclear-powered boats, and I wonder what the mean-time between failures on such a system would be.

    • They are talking about spraying SALT water into the air. Normally when clouds form it comes from normally evaporating water that leaves the salt behind. That is the reason the dead sea is so salty and for that matter how salt planes form.

      So, what does this system mean for salt in the rain? I seem to remember that to make a point you tear down your enemies city, plow the ground and sow it with salt so that everyone gets the point. Salt and agriculture don't mix.

      It is possible that the salt will fall down q

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by apoc.famine (621563)
        You're not too far off to be skeptical. I took a cloud physics course last semester. Cloud droplets form around aerosols - particles with such a low mass/volume ratio that they can remain suspended in the air.

        How do they remain suspended in te air? They're so small that the force of gravity is about equal to the air resistance they encounter. I have absolutely no idea how you can turn sea water into a super-fine mist, and then shoot it 3,000' into the air. For it to stay there, it has to have massive air
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Shihar (153932)

        I would be pretty shocked if the answers if the smart folks who thought this up and got handed a large money sack did not already answer most of your questions, but I can probably guess the answers to your concerns.

        If the salt hangs in the air for any length of time in any concentration... do it some place not near land. In fact, from all I have read on geoengineering, you want to do your work in the poles, so even if the salt hangs, it is a moot point. We also have a few thousands miles of Pacific with n

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:51PM (#32162472) Journal
    Here in the west USA, we have long droughts. We count on reservoirs having enough water. The problem is that we have also been depending for far too long on aquifers. So, we regularly talk about pipelines. Well, there is ZERO chance that an economical large pipeline can be developed. HOWEVER, this has the ability to put a lot more moisture in the air. When it is known that a cold front is going to hit an area, then we simply bump up the amount of moisture in the air. It will mean LARGE snow dumps, but that is needed. It will allow us to fill the aquifers as well as reservoirs.

    Generally, I think that Gates is causing more issues than solving (trying to stop hurricanes is a HORRIBLE mistake; it brings up nutrients from deep down; likewise, killing mosquitoes may actually stop evolution), but this one will help bring fresh water throughout the world as well as temporaly help with the global warming issues until we switch off of fossil fuels. Interestingly, if China, the worlds largest polluter of nearly everything, was to clean up their h2so4, then it would raise global temps quickly. With the clouds, it allows us to not worry about temps, while we go back to encouraging all nations to clean up their act.
  • You know, I really hope that he does not test this using the waters of the Puget Sound, which is stupidly close to where he lives - the greater Seattle area. Besides, it's not like we don't already have enough clouds around here.
  • That explains how i get hit with fish while hang-gliding.
  • Sea water sprayed into the air, salt drops on land, crops die.

  • Seems stupid... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Monday May 10, 2010 @05:56PM (#32162548) Homepage Journal

    The idea that spraying some water 3000ft into the air in the hopes that it will aid cloud formation seems ... stupid.

    3000ft isn't very far and if there isn't enough convection, it isn't going to go up much further... The colder denser air would descend and stay near the ground. This idea sounds about as smart as setting up thousands of Van de Graaff generators all over town, hoping that the ozone generated would plug the ozone hole.

    I think a much simpler solution would be this:

    1. Cover a large area, perhaps the area of 10 football pitches, with good old fashioned black tarmac.
    2. Have a simple sprinkler system, not too dissimilar to a lawn sprinkler system, covering the entire area.
    3. When the sun shines, turn on the water.
    4. Hopefully, the large area, heated by the sun, will cause enough convection to carry the water vapour up through the atmosphere, where it can form clouds.

    There is a problem with salt buildup if using seawater, changing the albino of the tarmac ... but I'm guessing that if there is some form of drainage system in place where slightly saltier water could drain away, that should suffice.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      I've got a better idea -- paint all the asphalt in the world with silver paint, thus increasing the reflectivity of the Earth, and lowering the temperature just as effectively as increased cloud cover would.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by apoc.famine (621563)
      As someone doing a PhD in weather/climate type stuff, I can give you some feedback:

      To start, you're correct in your critique of the plan. 3000' is not far enough. Nor will they be able to get proper cloud aerosols up there, to form cloud nuclei, without them falling back to earth. And should all that work out well, their budget is an order of magnitude or two too small. And even if they had that money, it's a crap shoot if the clouds will warm or cool the earth.

      To try to do this more "simply", using 10 f
  • In many places on the Earth, air moves (on average) in predictable ways. This leads me to a number of questions.

    Can we put these ships in a position so that those clouds pass over areas which need more rain?

    Would that cause rain there?

    Would that rain be salty?

    Is this a way to (as a secondary benefit) bring fresh water to areas needing rain, or would it destroy the land downwind by slowly coating it with more and more salt?

  • Is he short selling solar? More clouds, less light, etc.
  • Is this a joke? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:03PM (#32162652)

    Is this a joke?

    The rate of evaporation from the oceans is about 400,000 cubic kilometers per year.

    To increase that by just one percent would mean pumping 4,000 km^3 of water.

    Just raising that much water to 3,000 feet would take approximately, oh let's see, carry the 0x100,
    about 1,651,445,966.51 horsepower. One Point Six BILLION horsepower.

  • Dynamical responses (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ao_42 (1808558)
    I'm publishing a paper quite soon, hopefully, which examines cloud whitening and the dynamical responses. Previous researchers (eg Jones et al 2009, Rasch et al 2010) have examined the potential surface response, which gives a fairly rosy picture. I found that when you look more closely at the dynamical responses in the atmosphere, there are significant changes associated with this kind of geoengineering, including possible enhancement of Atlantic hurricanes. I hope Gates reads the literature on this befor
  • Been there, done that. Also pissed out the Window, perhaps never to this scale.
  • by lcreech (1491) on Monday May 10, 2010 @06:11PM (#32162776)

    No relataionship to the Microsoft Cloud Services advertized here on /.

  • We need to investigate technical solutions to global warming so that we will have a working Plan B when the crazy and doomed austerity policies fail utterly.
  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:02PM (#32163850)

    Gates should have paid Steve Jobs to propose it. That way the summary would have said something like "Jobs discovers breakthrough solution to global warming".

    Hmm. Now that I think about it the iPad displays are pretty large and shiny. If we spread a million of them across the sky...

  • by rivaldufus (634820) on Monday May 10, 2010 @10:45PM (#32164982)
    you're doing it wrong.

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