‘Buying time’: American scientists test machine that brightens clouds to cool the earth

1 week ago 37

Updated

Apr 03, 2024, 02:44 PM

Published

Apr 03, 2024, 02:24 PM

ALAMEDA, California – A little before 9am on April 2, an engineer named Matthew Gallelli crouched on the deck of a decommissioned aircraft carrier in San Francisco Bay, pulled on a pair of ear protectors, and flipped a switch.

A few seconds later, a device resembling a snowmaker began to rumble, then produced a great and deafening hiss. A fine mist of tiny aerosol particles shot from its mouth, travelling hundreds of feet through the air.

It was the first outdoor test in the United States of technology designed to brighten clouds and bounce some of the sun’s rays back into space, a way of temporarily cooling a planet that is now dangerously overheating.

The scientists wanted to see whether the machine that took years to create could consistently spray the right size salt aerosols through the open air, outside of a lab.

If it works, the next stage would be to try to change the composition of clouds above the Earth’s oceans.

As humans continue to burn fossil fuels and pump increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the goal of holding global warming to a relatively safe level is slipping away. That has pushed the idea of deliberately intervening in climate systems closer to reality.

Universities, foundations, private investors and the federal government have started to fund a variety of efforts, from sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to adding iron to the ocean in an effort to store carbon dioxide on the sea floor.

“Every year that we have new records of climate change, and record temperatures, heat waves, it is driving the field to look at more alternatives,” said Professor Robert Wood, the lead scientist for the team from the University of Washington that is running the marine cloud brightening project.

Brightening clouds is one of several ideas t...

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