Harvard Scientists Moving Ahead on Plans for World’s Largest Atmospheric Geoengineering Experiments

The climate researchers are determined to launch a high-altitude balloon with aerosol injections 20km up into the earth’s stratosphere to discover whether it can help them to mitigate temperature rise. This is the world’s biggest solar geoengineering program which can help in fixing global warming.

Two scientists of Harvard University, Professor Daniel P. Schrag and Frank Keutsch, are interested in small scale experimentation to study the ways of alleviation of threatening climate temperature. This project has brought some hope to ease the global warming but it has worried many people as well as. They would be among the earliest official geoengineering-related experiments conducted outside of a controlled laboratory or computer model, underscoring the growing sense of urgency among scientists to begin seriously studying the possibility as the threat of climate change mounts.

Professor Daniel P. Schrag admits that the prospect of using solar geoengineering in real life is “terrifying” and the possibility of something going wrong is “really scary”, including a plethora of questions such as who controls it and at what level do you set the thermostat. But the point is we don’t have the answers to these questions and it is always better to be informed than to blindly conduct something as serious as geoengineering in the future.

“We need to find out and try and quantify aspects as soon as possible,” explains Frank Keutsch in a video announcing the study. “The worst scenario that we want to be in is that in 20 years down the road, we find ourselves in a situation where we say that the rate of change from climate change is so big that the cost to humans and the environment is unacceptable, and we are starting to be forced into a situation to do something to try and slow the rate of change.”

The basic idea is that spraying aerosol injections into the stratosphere could help reflect more heat back into space. Scientists believe it could work because nature already does it. Large volcanic eruptions in the past have blasted tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky, which contributed to lower global temperatures in subsequent months.

What’s less clear is how precisely the technique could control worldwide temperatures, what materials would work best, and what the environmental side effects might be. Notably, previous volcanic eruptions have also decreased precipitation levels in parts of the world, and sulfur dioxide is known to deplete the protective ozone layer.

Sometime next year, Harvard professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a high-altitude balloon, tethered to a gondola equipped with propellers and sensors, from a site in Tucson, Arizona. After initial engineering tests, the “StratoCruiser” would spray a fine mist of materials such as sulfur dioxide, alumina, or calcium carbonate into the stratosphere. The sensors would then measure the reflectivity of the particles, the degree to which they disperse or coalesce, and the way they interact with other compounds in the atmosphere.

The researchers first proposed these balloon experiments in a 2014 paper. But at a geoengineering conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Keith said they have begun engineering design work with Arizona test balloon company World View Enterprises. They’ve also started discussions about the appropriate governance structure for such an experiment, and they plan to set up an independent body to review their proposals.

The balloon tests could provide additional insight into how these chemicals actually interact with precursors to ozone in the real world and offer additional information that could help refine their understanding of solar geoengineering, Keith says: “You have to go measure things in the real world because nature surprises you.”

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