Geoengineering: Could 'Cloud Brightening' Prevent Global Warming and Avert an Apocalypse?

By Anthony Smith on August 21, 2012 1:47 PM EDT

Clouds
Clouds (Photo: Flickr.com/karindanziel)

Though the concept of Cloud Brightening sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, scientists contend that this specific brand of geoengineering may be a key factor in preventing global warming and averting a potential apocalypse.

A team of scientists at the University of Washington's College of the Environment Institute have been focusing their efforts on studying cloud brightening, which is almost exactly what it sounds like. Their method, if successful, will use a fleet of ships to launch salt water so that it rockets up into the atmosphere over the ocean, creating a man-made cloud cover.

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Their theory is that this man-made salty cloud cover, the result of the coolest sprinkler system ever, will reflect more sunlight into space, resulting in a drastic cooling of the planet.

For Rob Wood, a leading atmospheric physicist at the University of Washington, encouraging discussion about cloud brightening is key. Through a small-scale experiment he published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, he demonstrated to the curious scientific world how the idea work.

"What we're trying to do is make the case that this is a beneficial experiment to do," Wood contended. He also recognized the potential for controversy from his idea considering that "groups that might have a vested interest in proving its success" rather than "responsible scientists" may end up taking the reins here.

The concept of geoengineering, or climate engineering, suggests that human beings can fight climate change and global warming by manipulating our environment through scientific and engineering means. The ideas run the gamut from practical ideas, such as the use of carbon sequestration, to the more speculative, such as putting a giant sun shade around our planet in space.

Unfortunately for us, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has ruled that most of the geoengineering ideas proposed so far are baseless, much too expensive, and ultimately dangerous in both fostering an attitude of irresponsibility and no accountability and producing results that could actually harm our environment.

"Climate engineering cannot be seen as a substitute for a policy pathway of mitigating climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," read a study earlier this year that explored how certain geoengineering efforts may actually be reducing global rainfall levels and triggering droughts. 

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