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Earth Science

Scientists Plan "Artificial Volcano" Climate Experiment 292

First time accepted submitter tonyt3 writes "Scientists plan on conducting an unusual climate experiment at a Norfolk airfield next month. They plan to spray water into the air about 20 km high to mimic volcanic particles, hoping that their findings could lead to a solution to global warming. From the article: 'Pouring 10 million tonnes of material into the stratosphere each using 10 to 20 giant balloons could achieve a 2C global drop in temperature, the scientists believe. Sulphate emissions from the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines in June 1991 reduced world temperature by 0.5C for two years.'"
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Scientists Plan "Artificial Volcano" Climate Experiment

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  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:27PM (#37402326) Homepage

    The air's pretty thin 1000 km up -- considering that the Space Station orbits at less than half that. Maybe 10 km?

    • Re:Not much air (Score:4, Informative)

      by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:30PM (#37402344) Homepage

      Okay, TFA (I know, I know) says 20km.

      • Re:Not much air (Score:4, Informative)

        by DanTheStone ( 1212500 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:34PM (#37402400)
        That's the "long-term vision"; this test is only at 1 km.
        • Considering a column of water 10m high results in one atmosphere of pressure, a 1 km column would need a pipe capable of holding a pressure of 1,470PSI while still being light enough to be suspended by balloons! This is going to take some serious engineering mojo, and all because the Earth's average temperature has increased from 288.0K to 288.8 over the last 150 years.

      • TFA is still a bit confusing. At one point they are talking about 20 pipes, each of them being 1 km long, and at another point someone starts talking about the pressure needed to move the water 20 km up.
    • by pz ( 113803 )

      Another failure of Slashdot editing in basic facts checking. The article states 1 km. The stratosphere is between 10 and 50 km, so 1,000 km would go well above that. The nominal edge of the atmosphere is about 600 km. Someone got a little too excited with the zeros, methinks.

  • My understanding was water vapor was more potent than co2 at trapping heat. (

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      They're not spraying water vapour.

      Presumably the water they do spray will increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, which is bad, so you wouldn't want to build the working model using water. But for a test water droplets have the advantage of being well accepted as non-toxic.

      • Right, there's a significant difference between water vapour and water aerosols, which is what this experiment is about. The second thing is that they are mainly interested in testing whether they can pump the stuff that high, instead of the climatological effects of that. (Which realistically ought to be negligible for a test this small.)
    • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @04:03PM (#37402758) Homepage Journal

      This is just a first test of the technology. If they were really going to use this for climate engineering, they'd use "clay, salts or metallic oxides suspended in liquid" (according to TFA) to reflect some sunlight back into space before it hits the earth.

      As you can imagine, just figuring out whether you can pump millions of kilograms of stuff 1,000 meters into the air (not 1,000 km, as the submitter wrote) is an open question. Their ultimate goal is to get it 20 km up. For the first test, you use what's cheap: water.

      The water itself is a greenhouse gas, but water molecules condense and fall as rain. It quickly returns to the existing equilibrium. The goal is to put up particles that would stay there for a while. Unlike water, they don't condense and fall out as quickly.

      Before it fell, the water would reduce sunlight a bit. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, but water in clouds isn't vapor; it's condensed droplets. Those droplets can reflect light; that's why cloudy days are dark. The goal isn't to produce water clouds, which would only be temporary and would be too much darkening. The goal is to put up enough particulates to get a slight reduction of incident light without having to continually pump new particles into the atmosphere.

      (Note: I'm not crazy about geoengineering as a solution to climate change, but the experiment is still interesting.)

    • They are making ice particles not water vapor, and if there is too much water vapor in the air, the water vapor falls down as rain or snow.
    • The quantity of water vapor in the troposphere averages around 1% or 10,000 ppmv as compared to 390 ppmv for CO2 which means there is around 25 times as much water vapor in the atmosphere as there is CO2. So, from the Wikipedia article water vapor is responsible for 36-72% of the greenhouse effect and CO2 is responsible for 9-26% of the greenhouse effect. So water vapor is responsible for 3-4 times as much greenhouse warming as CO2 despite being 25 times more prevalent.

      Based on that I would say that CO2 i

  • Man... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Fned ( 43219 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:37PM (#37402434) Journal

    ...this totally blows away my papier-mache-and-baking-soda model.

    I bet those guys are going to win the Science Fair.

  • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:39PM (#37402456) Homepage
    Sometimes you're on a crowded bus and you can tell that the person next to you decided they didn't have time to actually get clean, but thought they could mask their odor with deoderant. Unfortunately, in some cases, what you get is a retch-inducing mixture of BO and deodeo.

    Solutions like this to the climate issue remind me of those folks on the bus. If there's a real problem and if there are real things we can do to address the cause, let's do them. If, instead, we don't address the cause but do something else to mask the issue, then it seems likely that we'll just end up with an even bigger mess. I can just imagine scientists from another planet examining the burnt out husk of Earth and saying, "There's no life there; the atmosphere is an unlivable mix of carbon dioxide and sulphates!"
    • by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @04:09PM (#37402822)
      You've unwittingly described the climate that gave rise to life in the first place. It wasn't until organisms started photosynthesis that a new type of life came along and radically altered the atmosphere, killing almost everything else that came before it in the Oxygen Catastrophe of the Siderian. Which in turn allowed all the animal life we know to come to exist.

      This is the fundamental problem with green ideologues, they think that the biosphere is static and that life is impossible if it changes. You need to wrap your head around some facts. Mass extinctions created the current biosphere. If you think mass extinctions are bad, you must by extension think that the current biosphere you currently hold next to sacred is also ultimately a perversion of the state of life before said extinctions.

      Life can spring back from virtually nothing. During the greatest mass extinction, 90% of ocean-dwelling species perished completely. Have you noticed how they're not still empty? More importantly, have you noticed how there are a lot more species in the oceans now than in the Permian? Over time, biodiversity has always increased, regardless of how severe any event has been over short periods.

      The Chinese have a saying: 'Jiu de bu qu xin de bu lai' which means 'If old things don't go, new things will never come.'

      Of course my heresy against green dogma will be properly downmodded.
      • Helllooooo strawman.
      • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @04:45PM (#37403234) Homepage Journal

        I don't know about you, but I think it'd be kinda nice if *I* am not on the extinction list at this time, thank you very much.

      • by Fned ( 43219 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @05:24PM (#37403662) Journal

        This is the fundamental problem with green ideologues, they think that the biosphere is static and that life is impossible if it changes.

        This is the fundamental problem with gigantic bipedal primates whose capacity for rational thought isn't as strong as their desire not to change their favorite habits; they think that when the biosphere changes, they'll be among the chosen species to survive.

        You are way, way huger than anything that survived the greatest mass extinction, and this is not a fat-guy-in-mom's-basement joke. No human would have survived that event.

    • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

      Word... offsetting global warming by global dimming doesn't sound all that great of a deal.

      That's trading useful energy (sunlight reflected back to space by aerosol pollution) for useless energy (more heat energy retained by greenhouse gases). The temperature might end up being the same, but the the entropy is higher.

      Not an ideal way of saving the planet :-P It's bad enough that we're burning up all the fossil fuels stored from the solar energy collected by plants over the eons, but then there will be le

  • I'd much rather save the earth by spending and using less than dumping even more crap into the air. Quick fix anyone?

    • yes! Let's just get everyone to stop using cars, rebuild the entire material transportation infrastructure, sweat in the summer, freeze in the winter, and stop watching television! easy peasy!
    • But where's the profit in that?
    • by tmosley ( 996283 )
      You first. Start by turning off your computer, permanently.
    • by Toonol ( 1057698 )
      I'd rather spend and consume more, and make up the difference with huge engineering projects that fix the problem. So long as it works, that seems clearly the way to go.
  • I'm glad scientists are working on ideas like this. The reality is that we, the human race, are not going to stop burning fossil fuels. We'd best get on with figuring out how to deal with the resulting problems rather than continue dreaming that everyone is going to agree to stop.
  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:45PM (#37402532)

    It's like a smoker using air filters to clean up second hand smoke. Sure it may reduce the consequences of their actions, but it doesn't negate the fact that the addiction is the source of their problem.

    That being said, I don't want to dismiss their research altogether. The data will probably be useful for improving climate models and we may just have to resort to such tactics since we've been doing relatively little about climate change even though we've been aware of the issue for decades.

    • Well the people who deny global warming ultimately want free reign to pollute the global Commons without consequence. It's tragic.

      This option, at least, doesn't involve us simultaneously convincing everyone on the planet to not be selfish bastards with shared resources. "You think it's okay to dump whatever crap you want to into the sky for a profit, consequences by damned? Well then you certainly can't stop us from shooting our own stuff into the sky and blocking out the sun a little."

      It's not ideal, bu

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sjames ( 1099 )

      It's like a smoker using air filters to clean up second hand smoke.

      A socially responsible approach that has the potential to answer every genuine complaint?

  • What those idiots don't seem to realize, is that the effects of volcanic eruptions and the associated decline of global temperatures has always had catastrophic consequences. Be it the year without summer 1816 because of the Mt. Tambora [] eruption, the famines of 536 [] or the the Hatepe Eruption of 180AD [].
    • There have been some historical studies of CO2 levels over the last 65 million years, in the last 50 million years the CO2 level has been slowly trending downward....

      At the rate it was going it was going in another 100 million years the CO2 would have been so low that plants would start having a very hard time growing.

    • by mbkennel ( 97636 )

      So you admit that a couple of degrees of temperature change can have catastrophic consequences? But somehow when people do it on the hot side, there's no problem?

      (Already in the USA crop yields for corn were down because nighttime temperatures were so hot---increase of nightime temperatures is precisely the effect from global warming).

  • Balloons should detonate up there and spray calcium hydroxide particles everywhere. My idea my patent.

    • And presumably you get your CaOH by heating limestone.
      • Just go to an environmentally sensitive area in a suit and good hair, point to the ground, and say to the TV cameras, "We need that calcium hydroxide."
    • Presumably a balloon would not even need to be detonated - it could be made to explode from the pressure changes in the atmosphere as it ascends - although it may not release its particles at a desirable altitude in that model. Then there is the release of whatever gas was used (helium) in the balloon, although I don't know what effect that would have on the atmosphere.

  • Pouring 10 million tonnes of material 1 km in the sky is going to require a fuckload of energy.

    I know, "but they're using balloons!"

    Balloons aren't free lift. You have to fill them with something, and you have to produce that something from something else.

    Helium? Limited supply. If you think Carbon footprint is a big problem, you ain't seen Helium footprint yet.

    The solution to greenhouse gas is to STOP PRODUCING THE STUFF.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      "The solution to greenhouse gas is to STOP PRODUCING THE STUFF."
      You first.

      • Have the fourth-graders completely taken over slashdot by now? Is that all the rhetorical skill you can muster?
        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          Naw just a sense of humor over a statement made by a person using a computer whose very creation involved making green house gasses, that uses power that is probably from a grid that produces green house gasses.

      • by Matheus ( 586080 )

        Oops... I just farted.

  • Potable water is way too precious a resource to be feasible for such an 'experimental' (read: crack-pot) idea:


    ''We're going to try to pump tap water to a height of one kilometre through a pipe as a test of the technology.'' ...
    Pouring 10 million tonnes of material into the stratosphere each using 10 to 20 giant balloons could achieve a 2C global drop in temperature, the scientists believe.


    Experts believe particles of clay, salts or metallic oxides suspended in liquid would prove more effective than the sulphates produced by real volcanoes.

    So, why aren't they starting with salt water, again? If their experiment achieves everything they ever hoped for, they're still going to have to do it all over again with sea water anyways...and see if the resulting salt-water rains affect anything (gee, you think it would?) Or they're going to have to start building some big-ass desalination plants...and I just bet they won't be solar-p

    • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

      Would you believe that in some parts of the world, there are literally whole rivers of fresh water that are allowed to run unfettered right into the ocean. Crazy, I know, but it's true!!

  • Couldn't we achieve the same effect, if all 5 billion+ of us on the planet go outside and blow a raspberry [] ? Ya know, like, spraying water particles in the air? It would certainly be a lot of fun if we had a World Bronx Cheer Day.

    . . . augmented by World Spit-Take Day . . .

  • "And taking a look at the long range forecast, continued snow, darkness, and extreme cold. This is Howard Handupme, saying goodnight... and goodbye."

  • Why use an artificial volcano. Just wake up one of the slumbering super volcanoes and be done with it...

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.