From the ever-growing “What could possibly go wrong?” file comes word that a group of scientists have proposed a way to fight global warming by making clouds whiter and brighter. No … this isn’t funded by a laundry detergent company, although that’s not a bad idea. They claim brighter clouds will reflect more sunlight, leaving the Earth cooler. Before you start wondering if this involves ‘chemtrails’, they’ve got an answer for that too. Is this the ‘holy grail’ of climate change solutions that doesn’t involve us humans changing our behavior, our pollution, our corporate profits or our politics?
“Led by University of Washington scientists, a team of researchers designed a program to explore marine cloud brightening as a mechanism for cooling climate while simultaneously providing insight about cloud-aerosol effects and their influence on climate.”
The Marine Cloud Brightening (MCB) project is led by University of Washington cloud-aerosol scientist Dr. Robert Wood, and was inspired by a real phenomenon – ships at sea emit exhaust particles (aerosols) which mix with sea salt particles and carry them up to stratocumulus clouds over the ocean, brightening them to levels that cool the ocean below and offset increased levels of CO2. Seen from satellites, these “ship tracks” look suspiciously like airplane contrails (see for yourself here), so the purpose of the MCB Project is to ‘sea salt’ these clouds from ships without harming the atmosphere … or humans.
The arguments in favor of ‘sea salting’ clouds starts with the fact that sea water is free and environmentally harmless when it falls back to Earth. Aerosolizing seawater from sea level would use far less energy than cloud seeding by aircraft, resulting in lower costs and less polluting emissions. On the downside, the researchers don’t really know what will happen when they increase the amount of “ship tracks” to levels needed to cool off hotspots like the coast of California, Chile or south-central Africa. To answer the “What could possibly go wrong?” question, the project will entail three phases: aerosol spray development and testing, aerosol process experiments, and cloud-brightening experiments. Each will e fully completed before moving to the next phase, and the project will end if they find out what could possibly go wrong.
With California redwood forests in danger of being destroyed by wildfires and coastal coral reefs in danger of dying from heat stress, the need for controlling climate change is urgent. Could a quick fix like “sea salting” clouds give us humans enough time to enact major changes … or will it give us an excuse to kick the climate change ball to another generation?
What could possibly go wrong?