October 30, 2008

Royal Society Investigates Unusual Theories To Combat Warming

The UK's Royal Society is conducting an investigation to determine if ambitious engineering schemes could reduce the impact of global warming.

"Geo-engineering" experiments, such as putting mirrors into space and iron filings in oceans, are being proposed and the society says they must be properly assessed - however fantastical.

Climate scientists and engineers' groups will study a variety of these ideas and produce a report by the middle of next year.

However, environmental groups are concerned that technological solutions will divert attention away from reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Some of the schemes include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away from the Earth, seeding the atmosphere with particles to act as a planetary sun block and using iron filings to stimulate the growth of plankton in the oceans, which would in turn absorb CO2.

"Some of the ideas might have unpleasant side effects, some of them might be very expensive and some of them might not work," said Professor Andrew Watson, from the University of East Anglia, who is a member of the geo-engineering working group.

"We feel that there's quite a variety of these schemes out there now and increasing interest in them. And it's time there was an authoritative scanning of the horizon to see which of these might be useful and what more needs to be done," she added.

But despite what some believe, Professor Watson said not all of the ideas are "Ëœcompletely barking mad'.

"The working group will not dismiss them because they appear fantastical. I do think that some of these schemes have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and some of the schemes certainly do have the potential to cool the planet."

The study is intended to provide a useful first step in order to define the parameters and limitations of these approaches and to offer recommendations that deserve serious attention.

Yet some of the proposals are likely to have unintended harmful effects on the environment. The working group aims to investigate these potential side effects and establish what further research needs to be commissioned.

Even thinking about technological fixes diverts attention away from reducing CO2 emissions, according to some environmentalists.

"There is a feeling in the scientific community that these proposals should be researched because some may actually be useful as a last resort," said Watson.

"If the worst predictions of climate change are realized, what happens if, politically, we are unable to change our emission habits?" he said.

"As a last resort, we could turn to some of these possible methods. If we haven't done the research and properly evaluated these methods, that option would not be on the table."


Image Caption: Stimulating growth of plankton in the oceans is one proposal under consideration. Courtesy Prof. Gordon T. Taylor, Stony Brook University


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