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Earth Science

Cooling the Planet With a Bubble Bath 219

cremeglace writes "A Harvard University physicist has come up with a new way to cool parts of the planet: pump vast swarms of tiny bubbles into the sea to increase its reflectivity and lower water temperatures. 'Since water covers most of the earth, don't dim the sun,' says the scientist, Russell Seitz, speaking from an international meeting on geoengineering research. 'Brighten the water.' From ScienceNOW: 'Computer simulations show that tiny bubbles could have a profound cooling effect. Using a model that simulates how light, water, and air interact, Seitz found that microbubbles could double the reflectivity of water at a concentration of only one part per million by volume. When Seitz plugged that data into a climate model, he found that the microbubble strategy could cool the planet by up to 3C. He has submitted a paper on the concept he calls “Bright Water" to the journal Climatic Change.'"
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Cooling the Planet With a Bubble Bath

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  • by gyrogeerloose ( 849181 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @04:59PM (#31632358) Journal

    Has he cleared that with Don Ho?

  • Too bad Don Ho's gone...

  • Cue Don Ho song... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:02PM (#31632386)
    Tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
    In the sea (in the sea)
    Make me happy (make me happy)
    Make me feel free (make me feel free)

    Tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
    Make me warm all over
    With a feeling that I'm gonna
    Love you till the end of time

    So here's to the golden moon
    And here's to the silver sea
    And mostly here's a toast
    To you and me

    So here's to the ginger lei
    I give to you today
    And here's a kiss
    That will not fade away

    Poor guy, Don Ho... I haven't the heart to tell him, but all the women in his family are Hos!
    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:17PM (#31632642) Journal
      Don Ho:

      Tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
      Make me warm all over


      'Computer simulations show that tiny bubbles could have a profound cooling effect.

      Either this physicist is full of shit, or Don Ho was.

      • Cue Aesop's fable (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LandruBek ( 792512 )

        A MAN (apparently Don Ho) and a Satyr once drank together [] in token of a bond of alliance being formed between them. One very cold wintry day, as they talked, Don Ho put his fingers to his mouth and blew tiny bubbles. When the Satyr asked the reason for this, he told him that he did it to make himself feel warm all over, because it was so cold. Later on in the day the Satyr went to the beach, and but the ocean was sat too warm at the surface. Some other man blew tiny bubbles into it. When the Satyr again in

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) *

      Tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)

      I never realized what a hip song this is until I started playing the tenor ukulele.

      Seriously, if any of you would love to play music but don't want to spend 20 years becoming a virtuoso, pick up a halfway decent ukulele (spend about $100). There are dozens of excellent sites and organizations you can find on the web that will teach you how to play. You can start playing songs the first day. And it's better than prozac for chasing away the blues. And the ukulele is a cool instr

      • I far prefer Brother Iz [] to Don Ho.

        I guarantee you'll get laid. You do realize you are speaking to slashdot readers, don't you?

        I'm skeptical of the bubbles for the same reason many others have cited -- by cutting of sunlight to the ocean, you are depriving sea life of the base of it's foodchain, the plankton. Much better to simply paint all man made horizontal surfaces with silver paint (and keep them clean). Sure, it's bad on your eyes when you are driving, but it reverses the warming effect seen in urb
      • I always feel like they're not really thinking through all the possible ramifications. Bubbles in the Sea? It might be worth thinking about what that would do to ocean life.

        My smart-ass first post not withstanding (I just couldn't resist the Don Ho joke), I agree with you completely. Bubbles might help alleviate climate change but they're likely to cause all kinds of havoc with the phytoplankton that are the base of the oceanic food chain.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I can't believe you left out the late great Tiny Tim!
        Tiptoeing beneath the tulips now I suppose.
  • Crazy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:02PM (#31632396)
    What about the sea life that relies on that heat?
    • Ocean acidification and overfishing will have killed it all off long before we finish building 1000 windmills to power this.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by glavenoid ( 636808 )
      Not only heat but the specific spectra of light that reach below the water surface. Seems to me that affecting the surface reflectivity would by necessity change the light that reaches into the sea, and who knows what effect that would have on photosynthetic aquatic plant life.
      • Re:Crazy (Score:5, Interesting)

        by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:27PM (#31632798) Journal

        Actually you would not need to go to the spectrum. Since the bubbling water reflects more sunlight (which is what the cooling effect is based on), less sunlight enters the water. Less sunlight = less photosynthesis.

        Less photosynthesis means less production of biomass, which I'd guess has a negative effect on the ecosystem. But less photosynthesis also has the effect of less consumption of CO2, so at the end this idea may actually have the opposite effect from what was intended.

        • by EdZ ( 755139 )
          It depends on where the bubbles are. The article mentions subsurface bubbles. If the bubble layer were BELOW the layer where phytoplankton live, the reflected light would allow them to 'double-dip', and INCREASE the rate of photosynthesis. Of course, keeping the bubbles low enough before they dissipate on their own may prove a challenge.
          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            If the bubble layer were BELOW the layer where phytoplankton live

            It would then be completely ineffective. The bubbles need to be on or near the surface.

          • No. It gets dark fast underwater. To reflect a lot of light, you have to be where the light is, which is near the surface. Somehow, it doesn't seem like a great idea to me, when we're looking for alternative sources of energy (all of which originate with the sun) to start kicking a large chunk of that energy back into space. Less energy staying on earth = less biomass & other energy sponges for us to tap to solve the source of the problem. Then again, maybe there's so much abundant energy here that it j
      • There is nearly no true plant life in the ocean. It's mostly algae.

        That being said, air bubbles hurt corals and fish. They hate it. Ask any saltwater tank keeper what happens when there's too many bubbles in the tank. I had it happen just yesterday, and every single coral shriveled up until it was over, and stayed that way for a couple hours.

    • by BobPaul ( 710574 ) *

      Or the sea birds that need to see through the surface to find fish.

    • Re:Crazy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cheekyboy ( 598084 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:59PM (#31633206) Homepage Journal

      I heard that the actual planet was going into an ice age, and that the recent global warming by man saved us all from 1000 years of frozen hell.

      Seriously though, more heat is better than less heat, a run away cooling/frozen world is real bad, nothing grows at sub zero temps.

      But a hotter planet with more co2, well plants grow faster, and who knows cows could grow to the size of dinasours :)

      • Basically, you heard wrong. Yes, we are going into an ice age, but not for at least 10,000-20,000 years.

        And while some plants grow faster/better at higher CO2 levels, the plants that profit most are actually called "weeds", even those crops that grow faster apparently end up bigger but with fewer nutrients (so more, but less nutricious).

        And in most situations, CO2 is not the limiting factor in crop growth, things like water and fertilizer tend to be what determines how fast and how big plants grow.

        • Says you. The last ice age lasted about 15-20 thousand years, and the previous warm period lasted about the same. Given that the last ice age ended 16 thousand years ago, I imagine we could see another ice age any time in the next 5 thousand years.

          Also, the geological record shows that life was most prolific at its warmest, and most mass extinctions occurred during the ice ages.

        • there is no distinction between a weed and any other form of plant life past how useful we consider it for our own purposes.

          injecting CO2 into the air is an old green house trick, so it is a limiting factor (not as great as not enough water or fertilizer though)

          • So, it doesn't matter that all our fields of corn and wheat will be overrun by dandelions? I'm guessing you really didn't think your statement through.
    • by dissy ( 172727 )

      What about the sea life that relies on that heat?

      It will live on, in our memories and hearts. At least until the effects of that sea life dying make it to our little corner of the biosphere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'd be more worried about the sea life that gets injured by air bubbles outright. Fish die in saltwater tanks if their gills get exposed to too much air. I had a "bubble outbreak" in my tank yesterday due to some epoxy changing the surface tension of the water with a byproduct of the reaction, and all of my corals shriveled up until the bubbles were gone for a good 2 hours.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:02PM (#31632398)

    It can't be that hard... Just put some giant rockets on one side, and boom! What could go wrong?

    • They'd have to be moving rockets because of course the earth rotates, and as most of earth is covered in oceans we'll have to use some sort of ocean bearing vessel.

      I personally suggest we use frickin' sharks with frickin' rockets attached to their frickin' heads.

      • Just put a railroad track (with bridges) around the equator and have a train travel from east to west such that it will make one round the world trip per 24 hours. Stick a rocket on top, and you're golden.

      • Nah, just light the rocket from 11 AM to 1 PM every day, are we there yet?

    • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:31PM (#31632826) Journal

      Don't move the earth. Instead reduce energy production of the sun. Besides countering global warming, it also has the effect of increasing the sun's lifetime, because it uses up its fuel more slowly.

      We just have to find the knob where to change the setting.

  • by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:04PM (#31632432) Homepage

    a rubber duck. It's not a proper bubble bath without a rubber duck.

  • Same problems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bozzio ( 183974 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:05PM (#31632440)

    Don't all these crazy "reflect back light somewhere in the ocean" have the same problem?
    Whether you're covering the ocean with a white tarp, stretching tin-foil over a large number of floaters, or creating loads of tiny bubbles you're still depriving the ecosystem of light it is most likely dependent on.

    No light, no plankton, no life.

    Am I wrong?

    • Soylent green is people! It's People! Ahhh you'll get my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead, bubbly hands.

      Toro Heston

      (Alternately, for the younger generation, "Wrong! No plankton, more money for Mr. Crabs!")

  • Now all someone has to do is figure out how make all the water on earth have a concentration 1ppb bubbles.
  • Good idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Now all we have to do is build huge industrial complexes and ships to spend huge amounts of energy pumping tiny bubbles into the entire world ocean.

    Well, I guess we've solved global warming. That was easy.

  • Yesbut... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:09PM (#31632524)

    It would also increase evaporation and thusly the amount of water vapor in the air. Water vapor is more effective than CO2 at increasing global warming.

    Have you thought of that? No? Didn't *think* so!

    He also says that energy is not a limiting factor. He's a kook.


    • Re:Yesbut... (Score:5, Informative)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:20PM (#31632692) Journal
      What is more likely, that a climate scientist at Harvard has overlooked a simple yet obvious factor in his experiment, or you are too lazy to read the article?

      As a matter of fact the article mentions evaporation, suggesting that bubbles actually reduce the evaporation. If anyone is a kook in this situation, I would put odds on you (but it's more likely you're just lazy).
      • Re:Yesbut... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @06:01PM (#31633224)

        I read the article.

        He says the bubbles would slow down evaporation in lakes and streams (i.e., where he's not using the system). This is only because he's increased overall humidity from the evaporation of the ocean with his bubble toy.

        Ever see bubbles burst with fast film? They create droplets which increases surface area. Evaporation is dependent upon surface area, temperature, vapor pressure, and barometric pressure. Increase any of these and you increase the amount of water vapor in the air. Doing this over a large area increases the surface area for evaporation to happen by a large amount

        It's like you people have forgotten the most basic physics.

        And yes, he's a kook. Only a nutjob would come up with something as ridiculous as this.


    • Re:Yesbut... (Score:5, Informative)

      by bunratty ( 545641 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:32PM (#31632862)

      Excess water vapor in the atmosphere quickly precipitates out as rain or snow. Consequently, you can't increase global warming significantly only by attempting to add water vapor to the atmosphere. If the temperature increases, that can cause humidity to increase, and that can cause additional warming. In climatology, you say that water vapor is a feedback, not a forcing.

      Yes, I know, I'm ruining everybody's fun by mentioning facts again. What a party pooper!

      • by bmo ( 77928 )

        Excess water vapor in the atmosphere quickly precipitates out as rain or snow.

        Water vapor is a greenhouse gas. This is a fact known by everyone who has even glanced at a list of greenhouse gases. It's also very effective.

        Adding water vapor to the atmosphere increases the amount of heat the atmosphere can hold.

        As you raise the temperature of the atmosphere (because you've added to the heat trapping ability of the atmosphere) you can evaporate more water.

        Tell me where this is wrong.

        I'll wait right here.

        As f

    • Water vapor has a huge heat of evaporation [] and is actually lighter than air, 28.8 gm/mol vs 18 gm/mol, this alows it to carry vast amounts of heat well above the insulating CO2 release it and fall back as rain. Striking example of this heat pump effects are thunder-storms, tornadoes and hurricanes where warm moist air from the lower troposphere is violently shot up into the cold dry lower stratosphere. Mind boggling amounts of heat energy is moved by this effect.

    • by orzetto ( 545509 )
      Different chemical compound block different bandwidths of radiation. Water's band saturated, so adding water will have no effect; also, as others have already pointed out, water vapour can condense into rain, whereas CO2 cannot. The range of wavelengths blocked by CO2 is not saturated, which means that increasing CO2 will also increase energy holdup.
  • Destroy the Sun. There, I fixed that for you.

    "Since the dawn of time, Man has yearned to destroy the Sun."
    - C. Montgomery Burns

  • Bermuda Ocean (Score:5, Interesting)

    by engineer_uhg ( 880695 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:12PM (#31632552)
    Tiny bubbles are also good for sinking ships. Decrease the density of the water, decrease the buoyant force on the boats. Source []
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:13PM (#31632562)

    Before you start mucking about with geo-engineering the temperature, you'd better make damn sure you can UN-muck it or we're all seriously mucked!

    What this means is:

    1) Thousands of gyroscopically positionable mirrors in space allowing you to control sunlight = Good!

    2) Planting oodles of trees everywhere we can do distribute the heat that we do have = "Well, OK, it'll work for most of the planet as long as you don't plant trees that are disease vectors for other organisms."

    3) Throwing thousands of tons of [Insert favorite substance here] into the atmosphere/Ocean/Volcanoes and hoping it works and not having a clue as to the knock-on effects down the road = BAD, BAD, BAD.


    • Planting oodles of trees everywhere..

      More like, "let's put back the forests we've destroyed over the last couple hundred years, then plant some more"

      • by bmo ( 77928 )

        Just so you know, there are currently more trees in New England than before the settlement of the English.

        The English settlers wouldn't have had a chance had it not been for the people living here hadn't had already cleared the land.


        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by budgenator ( 254554 )

          Actually all of North America has more trees the before Europeans came. Most Industrial Forresters plant 2.5 trees for everyone cut, they make money cutting mature lumber not running out of trees to cut. Even the American Indians would cut and burn old stagnate unproductive growth to allow productive vigorous new forrests to replace them.

  • by Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:34PM (#31632872) Homepage

    What if the planet is already (or on the near verge of) getting colder?

    Personally, I'm far more concerned about global cooling than global warming.

    Global warming, on the whole, is more favorable to growing food / living things. Anyone doubting that need only read up on the effects of the various ice ages in the relatively extremely recent geological past. Even a very minor cooling period, such as the "little ice age" in the mid 1600s, while very minimal, had horrendous, adverse effects for humans... []

    The "climate change" folks seeking to cool the earth should be wary - nature may respond with far more cooling than they'd bargained for!


  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:50PM (#31633102)

    Sounds like someone banging his head against the wall all the time, and coming up with the “solution” of taking painkillers... while continuing to run against the wall.

    I am baffled by the amount of elaborate ignorant high-level idiocy it takes, to come up with such thoughts.

  • Where's Lawrence Welk and his Fantastic Bubble Machine when you need him?

  • Wouldn't higher reflectivity of the ocean lead to an increase in the heat absorption of CO2 in the atmosphere, being that a given reflected photon would have twice the chance of striking a CO2 molecule in the atmosphere?

    • Probably not because the bubbles reflect visible light back. CO2 is a supposed problem because the ground absorbs the energy visible and IR and re-radiates part of it back as Infrared that the CO2 absorbs and scatters, the visible light passes through the CO2 unscattered.

  • So the day we stop inputting the bubbles, we're all toast, except faster and crispier?

  • From TFA:

    Seitz says adding bubbles to a 1-square-kilometer patch of ocean is feasible, but scaling it up may be technically difficult.

    No shit, Sherlock. I'm glad he goes to Harvard!

    When Seitz plugged that data into a climate model, he found that the microbubble strategy could cool the planet by up to 3C.

    Well I'll be damned. It's too bad he failed to mention how many millions of square miles that need to be filled with bubbles to achieve this (hint: it's more than

  • This is a classic "smart people are so dumb" moment.

    I'm sure this guy is brillant, but he's approached the problem in such a one dimensional way that it's painful. I suspect he's not interested in ever implementing the idea, but the danger is some pressure group or politician might come across it and think it's the best thing since sliced bread.

  • I remember using what was basically a giant plastic sheet of bubble wrap to help increase the solar gain of our swimming pool, and keep the water a more comfortable temperature than it otherwise would have been.

  • by fyoder ( 857358 ) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @05:16AM (#31637888) Homepage Journal

    Narrator: [in movie] Fortunately, our handsomest politicians came up with a cheap, last-minute way to combat global warming. Ever since 2063 we simply drop a giant ice cube into the ocean every now and then.

    [The movie cuts to a shot of a aircraft dropping a large ice cube into the ocean and then cuts back to the classroom.]

    Suzie: [in movie] Just like Daddy puts in his drink every morning. And then he gets mad.

    Narrator: [in movie] Of course, since the greenhouse gases are still building up, it takes more and more ice each time. [There are shots of bigger ice cubes being dropped into the ocean.] Thus solving the problem once and for all.

    Suzie: [in movie] But--

    Narrator: [angry; in movie.] Once and for all!

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva