By Clive Wakely. In what must rank as one of the most bizarre experiments of recent years, it has been announced that a huge helium-filled balloon trailing a length of hosepipe almost a mile in length, is to be launched as part of an investigation into climate engineering.
It has long been established that fine volcanic particles lifted high into earth’s atmosphere from volcanic plumes and subsequently widely scattered by air currents, has the effect of shielding the surface from sunlight, thereby causing a drop in temperature.
The balloon test, proposed for October, will investigate the engineering challenges posed by such a project and, as part of the experiment, harmless water particles in the form of an aerosol will be sprayed out as a particle substitute.
Scientists from universities across the country are reported as collaborating on the project, which has been termed SPICE, derived from Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering.
Aspects of the experiment include identifying the most appropriate particle to use, the optimum method of distributing it, and the potential effects this will have, both short and long-term, on the Earth’s climate.
The launch next month will be the first of its kind in Britain and should it prove successful then it is likely that a far bigger test, at an attitude of around 100,000 feet, will follow at some unspecified time in the future.
The concept of climate change manipulation utilizing particles or aerosols arises directly from observations of major volcanic eruptions and the resultant effects of such discharges on the weather.
In 1991 when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, it was estimated that some four cubic miles of ash and gas were pumped into the atmosphere.
Fine volcanic particles were rapidly distributed around the earth by high speed high-altitude winds known as jet streams.
The overall effect of the distribution was to decrease average global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius for the following two years.
Scientists established that the dust and gas released by the volcano reflected solar radiation to the extent of reducing its heating effect upon the atmosphere.
The SPICE global geo-engineering project would (if initial tests are successful) see carefully selected particles deliberately pumped into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic emissions, for the purposes of establishing viability and impact.
It is further reported that the SPICE project has received £1.6 million to investigate all aspects of such a technique, with October’s field test being the first of several proposed launches.
A disused airfield in Norfolk has been chosen for the launch of the 20 metre high pilot balloon – which will be tethered by an almost mile long specially strengthened hosepipe.
Once deployed water will be pumped up the hosepipe to the balloon where it will be dispersed as an aerosol spray directly into the atmosphere.
Researchers will carefully monitor the performance of the balloon to see how it and the hosepipe react to strong winds and to measure the extent and quality of the aerosol plume generated.
Information collected will, in theory, enable scientists and engineers to scale up the experiment for a monster balloon capable of functioning at around 100,000 feet – some three times higher than the height commercial airliners operate at.
Should the trials prove successful – in that they establish in principle the technical feasibility and effectiveness of a full-blown experiment, then it could still be anywhere between ten and twenty years before it is tried in earnest.
According to the SPICE team this kind of “intervention” is not designed to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but merely to lower global warming through reflecting some sunlight.
They also claim that 10 or 20 giant high-altitude strategically located balloons could release enough particles into the atmosphere to reduce the global temperature by around 2 degrees.
Whilst proponents of the experiment claim that this is just one of many potential geo-engineering techniques that have been proposed to counter alleged global warming, others remain skeptical, if not downright worried.
One obvious issue is that few people are unconditionally positive about the concept of artificially engineering Earth’s climate.
To state the blatantly obvious, although some countries may welcome an artificially induced lowering of temperature, there are also those who would not.
Indeed climate engineering raises a number of very important political, technical and moral issues.
Whilst it is perhaps acceptable that small-scale experiments should be carried out to investigate the possibilities offered by the technology it is difficult to imagine any non-dire circumstances that would render it either necessary or even desirable.
Some may claim that climate modification can only be beneficial to mankind, in the same way as nuclear energy is claimed to be (except for nuclear weapons); however a climate weapons race could add an entirely new and apocalyptic meaning to the term “Cold War”.
By its very nature global climate modification has global implications; one nation’s gain could well be another’s loss; wars have started for far less.
Furthermore, in an age when even long term weather prediction by the “experts” is notoriously unpredictable, does anyone really trust the “experts” enough to feel happy over them tampering with our global climate?