Scientists Propose Creating Clouds to Slow Warming

Mary Witzig/CC BY 2.0

As unusually harsh droughts continue to grip much of the United States, and new record-breaking weather events seem to strike with increasing regularity, the push to find solutions to global warming has never been more urgent -- so much so that even the most unconventional ideas are being given a second look.

Scientists from the University of Washington recently unveiled a new take on an old proposal to cool the Earth by artificially producing cloud cover over swaths of ocean to reflect away light, part of a process known as 'marine cloud brightening'.

The concept is actually fairly simple: a fleet of boats equipped with sprayers large enough to project particles of sea-salt into the atmosphere where they would facilitate the formation of clouds. The resulting cloud cover, if dense enough, could to reflect enough heat-producing sunlight back into space to lead to cooling at the surface.

© University of Washington

Researchers say the process is similar to how contrails are formed in the wake of airplanes, wherein salt would act as the base of condensation, not particles of engine exhaust.

Atmospheric physicist Rob Wood and his team are hoping to test marine cloud brightening on a small scale at first, using just 10 ships along a 60 mile stretch of ocean, to see if the idea could actually be as effective at cooling as their hypothesis suggests. If it is, Wood says it could help alleviate some of the problems associated with temperature increases as more comprehensive reforms are made towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s a quick-fix idea when really what we need to do is move toward a low-carbon emission economy, which is turning out to be a long process,” says Wood. “I think we ought to know about the possibilities, just in case.”

“What we’re trying to do is make the case that this is a beneficial experiment to do,” he adds.

Tags: Global Warming Science | Global Warming Solutions