Friday, September 02, 2011

Pumping Water and Aerosols to the Stratosphere


Geoengineers like to think big. They are drawn to projects which are geared to a planetary scale. Such a project is this British Royal Society project to pump water 1km into the sky, using a helium balloon tethered water hose.

If that test run is successful, they will be aiming to repeat the experiment at an elevation of 20km.
... a team of British academics will next month formally announce the first step towards creating an artificial volcano by going ahead with the world's first major "geo-engineering" field-test in the next few months. The ultimate aim is to mimic the cooling effect that volcanoes have when they inject particles into the stratosphere that bounce some of the Sun's energy back into space, so preventing it from warming the Earth and mitigating the effects of man-made climate change.

Before the full-sized system can be deployed, the research team will test a scaled-down version of the balloon-and-hose design. Backed by a £1.6m government grant and the Royal Society, the team will send a balloon to a height of 1km over an undisclosed location. It will pump nothing more than water into the air, but it will allow climate scientists and engineers to gauge the engineering feasibility of the plan. Ultimately, they aim to test the impact of sulphates and other aerosol particles if they are sprayed directly into the stratosphere.

If the technical problems posed by controlling a massive balloon at more than twice the cruising height of a commercial airliner are resolved, then the team from Cambridge, Oxford, Reading and Bristol universities expect to move to full-scale solar radiation tests.

The principal investigator, Matthew Watson, a former UK government scientific adviser on emergencies and now a Bristol University lecturer, says the experiment is inspired by volcanoes and the way they can affect the climate after eruptions.

"We will test pure water only, in sufficient quantity to test the engineering. Much more research is required," he said, in answer the question of what effect a planetary-scale deployment of the technology could have.

Other leaders of the government-funded Stratospheric particle injection for climate engineering (Spice) project have investigated using missiles, planes, tall chimneys and other ways to send thousands of tonnes of particles into the air but have concluded that a simple balloon and hosepipe system is the cheapest. The research is paid for by the government-funded Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

"The whole weight of this thing is going to be a few hundred tonnes. That's the weight of several double-decker buses. So imagine how big a helium balloon do you need to hold several double-decker buses – a big balloon. We're looking at a balloon which is possibly 100-200m in diameter. It's about the same size as Wembley stadium," said the Oxford engineering lecturer Hugh Hunt in an interview earlier this year.

"This hose would be just like a garden hose, 20km long and we pump stuff up the pipe. The nice thing about it is that we can really have a knob, if you like, which we can control to adjust the rate at which we inject these particles."

While the October experiment is expected to have no impact on the atmosphere, it could also be used to try out "low-level cloud whitening", a geo-engineering proposal backed financially by Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates.

In this case, fine sea salt crystals would be pumped up and sprayed into the air to increase the number of droplets and the reflectivity in clouds. Together, many droplets are expected to diffuse sunlight and make a cloud whiter. _Guardian
There are quite a few other types of crystals and compounds which could be sprayed into the stratosphere besides sea salt crystals or pure water. But to go far beyond those simple compounds, the experimenters would likely have to jump a large number of environmental hurdles.

At this stage, no one seems to be worried that such experiments might block too much sunlight, but that should be a concern for any geoengineering project of this type.

Modern climate science is still in its infant stages of understanding of the atmosphere. Climate models are pathetic trash compactors -- parsimonious garbage in / garbage out number crunchers. If grant-hungry climatologists get the answers they want, they publish them. If not, they go back and tweak the models until they do get the answers they want. A terrific scam if you can get it.

Eventually, climate science will stumble upon the scientific method, and claim to have invented it from scratch. That would be alright, if only climatologists would indeed take the scientific method seriously for once.

In the meantime, all of you geoengineers tread softly on this planet. Recent climate trends have been very nice. If you botch it up, a lot of us will not be happy.



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