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Science Technology

Will Climate Engineering Ever Go Prime Time? 281

Posted by samzenpus
from the warm-up-the-hurricane-gun dept.
coondoggie writes "You may or may not be old enough to remember the TV commercial for margarine that had the tag line: 'It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.' But that commercial came to mind as I was reading a report out recently that looked at the viability of large climate engineering projects that would basically alter large parts of the atmosphere to reduce greenhouse gases or basically reverse some of the effects of climate change. The congressional watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office took a look at the current state of climate engineering science and technology (PDF), which generally aims at either carbon dioxide removal or solar radiation management."
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Will Climate Engineering Ever Go Prime Time?

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  • Re:Wrong idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @02:55PM (#37267758) Homepage

    Colonizing other planets is *WAY* more difficult than geoengineering Earth where our entire industrial base is. The atmosphere is a super-thin skin over all of us.

    I like to help people picture how easy it is to change CO2 levels this way. Picture you have the Hindenburg full of pre-industrial-revolution air. How much gasoline would you have to burn to bring its CO2 levels up from that to modern CO2 levels?

    Pre-industrial CO2 was around 280PPM. Today's are around 100ppm more. The Hindenburg held 200,000 cubic meters of gas. STP air density is about 1.2kg/m^3, so the Hindenburg would hold about 240,000kg of air. 100ppm of CO2 from that is 24kg. The carbon content of CO2 is 30%, so that's 7.2kg of carbon. Gasoline has 2.4kg of carbon per gallon. So three gallons of gasoline.

    In short, a single fill of a gas tank on your average car could raise the CO2 content of a volume of air the size of *three* Hindenburgs to modern levels (+36%). When something is as diffuse as air, and when you're talking about gasses that are trace even within that, it becomes very easy to mess with them, even when you're talking about an area the size of the planet.

    The downside to most geoengineering projects, however, is that they're merely masking. Most of them -- not all, but most -- simply try to hide the effects of one symptom of CO2 rise or another (usually the heat, ignoring the ocean acidification). Several problems come from this. One, you need ever-greater measures to keep masking the CO2 rise, with ever-greater side effects from whatever side-effects that method has, and ever-greater costs. And two, if you ever stop, or your system ever fails, or you discover that the side effects are too great, or whatnot, there's a sudden surge in temperatures as all of the effects you'd been hiding take full force. Really, you need to address the cause, not the symptom. You don't treat cancer with Tylenol.

    There are some geoengineering projects, however, that do work on getting the CO2 out of the atmosphere. At the same time, they shouldn't be rushed without further study, or you risk causing more problems than you're trying to solve. The classic CO2 elimination proposal is of seeding the oceans with iron. Some wishful thinkers like to hope that as CO2 levels rise, plant growth will just correspondingly rise and eat up the additional CO2. But most of the world's surface area is not CO2-limited, but nutrient limited -- in the oceans, usually iron; proposing that CO2 will just increase global plant growth is like proposing that adding more sunlight to a desert will increase its plant growth. For most of the oceans, extra CO2 is simply an acidifier, which reduces maximum biomass. So the concept goes, add iron and you increase photosynthetic activity, and thus sequestration, turning the dead zones into oases of life. It's a neat concept, but a lot of things are still widely open for debate. Do you actually increase the sequestration rate, or does the additional bloom all just rot before it can be deposited? Do you cause hypoxia and severely negative downstream conditions from it? Do you rob the ocean of other minerals and cause severely negative downstream conditions from that? Etc. Basically, ocean seeding is something that bears investigation, but not a rush project. We need to know just what we're getting into before we get into it.

  • Re:Wrong idea (Score:2, Informative)

    by WolfgangPG (827468) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @03:14PM (#37268010)
    Or this crazy idea liberals have that humans are more powerful than the Sun and seem to forget the climate of the earth has changed many times before man even arrived.

    Also: http://news.yahoo.com/nasa-data-blow-gaping-hold-global-warming-alarmism-192334971.html [yahoo.com]
    Snip: NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing.

    The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

    Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

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