July 31, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Fun with Geoengineering

This week’s roundup will provide to you with plenty of conversation starters for your weekend parties, with the latest news on the often-controversial topic of geoengineering – the altering of Earth’s systems to mitigate or reverse the effects of climate change.  

Yesterday, as we reported in depth, The New York Times examined the growing use of white roofs (which, while not altering Earth’s systems as such, may alter the overall albedo of the planet) by everyone from Wal-Mart to the U.S. Army. While such plans are relatively innocuous, more extreme methods of geoengineering are being increasingly considered domestically and internationally. In one example, some experts are proposing creating an “artificial volcano” by injecting sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and cool global temperatures. CNAS’s own Dr. Jay Gulledge, quoted in the article, urges a bit of restraint before such actions are taken, noting that they can be difficult to undo.

Outside the United States, the Calcutta Telegraph reported that the former chairman of India’s space department has urged the Indian government to begin exploring the possibility of large-scale geoengineering projects, such as injecting the atmosphere with aerosols and fertilizing oceans with iron. A slightly less extreme project was reported in Scientific American this week, where the 60-Second Science Blog examined a new proposal to use bacteria to turn sand into sandstone walls to halt desertification. There has also been growing support for projects aimed at adding biochar to soil, which could potentially not only help agriculture, but also remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Finally, geoengineering got a boost this week from the American Meteorological Society, which called for a funding surge for research. One topic for study could be the seeding of clouds to increase the reflection of solar shortwave radiation. The research couldn’t come at a better time, as a report this week indicated that climate change could now be feeding on itself.