- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Crazy-sounding ideas for saving the planet are getting a serious look from top scientists, a sign of their fears about global warming and the desire for an insurance policy in case things get worse.

How crazy?

There’s the man-made “volcano” that shoots gigatons of sulfur high into the air. The space “sunshade” made of trillions of little reflectors between Earth and sun, slightly lowering the planet’s temperature. The forest of ugly artificial “trees” that suck carbon dioxide out of the air. And the “Geritol solution” in which iron dust is dumped into the ocean.

“Of course it’s desperation,” said Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider. “It’s planetary methadone for our planetary heroin addiction. It does come out of the pessimism of any realist that says this planet can’t be trusted to do the right thing.”

NASA is putting the finishing touches on a report summing up some of these ideas and has spent $75,000 to map out rough details of the sunshade concept. One of the premier climate modeling centers in the United States, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has spent the last six weeks running computer simulations of the man-made volcano scenario and will soon turn its attention to the space-umbrella idea.

And last month, billionaire Richard Branson offered a $25 million prize to the first feasible technology to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the air.

Simon “Pete” Worden, who heads NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., says some of these proposals, which represent a field called geoengineering, have been characterized as anywhere from “great” to “idiotic.” As if to distance NASA from the issue a bit, Mr. Worden said the agency’s report won’t do much more than explain the range of possibilities.

Scientists in the recent past have been reluctant to consider such concepts. Many fear there will be unintended side effects; others worry such schemes might prevent the type of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are the only real way to fight global warming. These approaches are not an alternative to cutting pollution, said University of Calgary professor David Keith, a top geoengineering researcher.

Last month, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, told the nation’s largest science conference that more research must be done in this field, but no action should be taken yet.

Here is a look at some of the ideas:

• The Geritol solution

A private company is already carrying out this plan. Some scientists call it promising while others worry about the ecological fallout.

Planktos Inc. of Foster City, Calif., last week launched its ship, the Weatherbird II, on a trip to the Pacific Ocean to dump 50 tons of iron dust. The iron should grow plankton, part of an algae bloom that will drink up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The idea of seeding the ocean with iron to beef up a natural plankton and algae system has been tried on a small scale several times since 1990. It has both succeeded and failed.

Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said large-scale ocean seeding could change the crucial temperature difference between the sea surface and deeper waters and have a dramatic effect on marine life.

• Man-made volcano

When Mount Pinatubo erupted 16 years ago in the Philippines it cooled the Earth for about a year because the sulfate particles in the upper atmosphere reflected some sunlight.

Several leading scientists, from Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to the late nuclear cold warrior Edward Teller, have proposed doing the same artificially to offset global warming.

Using jet engines, cannons or balloons to get sulfates in the air, humans could reduce the solar heat, and only increase current sulfur pollution by a small percentage, said Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“It’s an issue of the lesser of two evils,” he said.

Scientists at the Center for Atmospheric Research put the idea into a computer climate model. The results aren’t particularly cheap or promising, said NCAR scientist Caspar Ammann. It would take tens of thousands of tons of sulfate to be injected into the air each month, he said.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide