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We have technology. Airplanes can disperse particles into the atmosphere to fight climate change. But should we?



If climate change models are correct, mankind works alone – and pulls the rest of life on Earth – into the corner. The scientific reasons for controlling emissions and fighting climate change are starting to have some effect, but they are not enough. So now we have a hard decision.

If you have not heard the terms "solar geoengineering" and "aerosol injection in the stratosphere", you would probably get used to them. They represent a scientifically and technologically realistic plan to control climate change when other governmental and economic models can not do so. The idea is for a moment, but in the past it was too expensive.

Now a new research paper in Environmental Research Letters analyzes what is needed to use aircraft to spray sulphates into the stratosphere for cooling the climate. These two authors are Wake Smith of Yale and Gernot Wagner of Harvard. And once you have crossed your idea, if you feel it is, the post contains some well thought-out parameters for the whole business.

"… a hypothetical deployment program starting fifteen years … would be technically strictly technically feasible." – Dr. Gernot Wagner, co-researcher at the Harvard Solar Research Institute.

First we distract a few myths. It has nothing to do with the dimming of the sun, the chemtrails or the control of the mind. Nothing humanity can do could sunbathe on the sun. Chemtrails are ignorant dreams of fever, and mind control is simply … anything. Both Smith and Wagner are serious people and deserve their attention.

Wagner is a researcher and lecturer at Harvard, co-founder of the Harvard Solar Research Institute and author of "Climate Shock." Smith has an MBA and career in commercial aviation and finance and writes about logistics and the cost of managing sunlight and geoengineering. These two are well-equipped to carry out this research.

What are we really talking about?

Imagine a world in which scientists have found that our emissions are warming around the world, and people are too reluctant to change their emissions. Our management methods and economic methods do not work. You do not have to imagine it, because that's basically where we are.

In this situation, scientists have to try to come up with technological solutions and at the same time the hope that politics and the economy will eventually come to terms. And that leads us to these two ideas: solar geoengineering and injection of stratospheric aerosols (SAI).

When Mt. Pinatubo exploded in the Philippines in 1991, raising 20 million tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. Global temperatures have fallen by 0.5 degrees Celsius in the next few years. Image Credit: American Geological Survey by Richard Hoblitt. - Archived source link, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=545018
When Mt. Pinatubo exploded in the Philippines in 1991, raising 20 million tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. Global temperatures have fallen by 0.5 degrees Celsius in the next few years. Image Credit: American Geological Survey by Richard Hoblitt. – Archived source link, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=545018

Solar geoengineering is also called "sunlight management" (SRM). The goal is to get the atmosphere to reflect more space from the sun's back into space. SRM is trying to increase albedo Earth or reflectivity.

Some SRM methods suggest protecting and restoring naturally reflective Earth surfaces such as sea ice, snow and glaciers. These would be massive engineering projects and expensive. There is no guarantee that they will work.

A new study, published by Smith and Wagner, focuses on many other much-spoken questions about SRM: Aerosol Injection in the stratosphere (SAI).

Stratospheric Aerosol Injection focuses on the idea of ​​injecting sulphates into the atmosphere, about 20 kilometers high, in the stratosphere. It is justified that SAI could face most of the climate change, be relatively inexpensive, could quickly emerge and be reversible in direct climatic effects. It sounds pretty good, but there are some disadvantages.

Early thoughts in the SAI are designed by artillery, existing aircraft or balloons to inject sulphates or their precursors into the stratosphere. But each one has its own problems. New research focuses on the development of new planes that deliver sulphates to the stratosphere.

Flying 20 kilometers into the stratosphere is not easy. It's not something we only have to do a few times to use expensive missiles and cut costs. A successful SAI project would be a multi-year project involving a fleet of specialized aircraft located at several locations around the world.

In his study, Smith and Wagner analyze costs and development times for the aircraft fleet that could reduce the growth of anthropogenic emissions. The fleet would start to be small and grow over time and would be operational for 15 years. They looked at the existing aircraft and came to the conclusion that none of them was practical. 15 years gives you enough time to develop the required aircraft and their testing and licensing.

The study dealt with existing aircraft such as NASA's Global Hawk. It can carry high costs to high altitudes for 24 hours. The global hawk, like all other existing aircraft, does not meet the requirements of SAIL. Image Credit: NASA Photo / Tom MIller
The study dealt with existing aircraft such as NASA's Global Hawk. It can carry high costs to high altitudes for 24 hours. The global hawk, like all other existing aircraft, does not meet the requirements of SAIL. Image Credit: NASA Photo / Tom MIller

"No existing aircraft requires a combination of height and payload." – Wake Smith, co-author of the study.

A permanent flight of 20 km requires a special airplane. The hull and wings must be different from what we have now, and the engines would have to specialize. They conducted their study and consulted several aircraft manufacturers, engine manufacturers and other companies including Airbus, Atlas Air, Boeing, Bombardier, GE Engines, Gulfstream, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Near Space Corporation, Northrup Grumman, Rolls Royce Engines and others.

They call their proposed SAIL: Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Lofter.

These two scientists are clearly aware of their motives. They do not make any judgments about the use of SAIL in the fight against climate change. They just wanted to clarify this idea and find out what a realistic SAI program might look like, and what a timetable and effectiveness could be.

One of the authors, Dr. Gernot Wagner, said, "Although we do not think it would be desirable for SAI to be correct, we will show that a hypothetical deployment program starting fifteen years, although very uncertain and ambitious, technically feasible from a technical point of view, would also be remarkable cheap, on average about 2 to 2.5 billion a year for the first 15 years. "

Other studies have concluded that existing aircraft can be adapted to combat climate change, but the pair of scientists have found it unlikely. Wake Smith said in a press release: "I was interested in the question of engineering around the SAI and many studies that wanted to prove that modified existing aircraft could do the job, and it turned out that this is not the case, indeed, a completely new aircraft design would be needed. would make SAI a reasonable, albeit completely hypothetical, parameter. No existing aircraft has a combination of required altitude and payload. "

NASA WB-57 is another high-level research aircraft that the authors of the study consider to be unsuitable for SAIL. Image: NASA / Johnson Space Center.
NASA WB-57 is another high-level research aircraft that the authors of the study consider to be unsuitable for SAIL. Image: NASA / Johnson Space Center.

This new SAIL would have to carry a 25-ton payload of up to 20 km altitude and fly there. So what does this new aircraft look like?

The plane itself would need larger wings, twice the size of existing aircraft and twice the stroke. "We have developed a SAIL specification with direct access from several aerospace and motor companies, which is equivalent to a large narrow body aircraft, but to maintain a plane flight at a distance of 20 km, it requires roughly twice the wing size equivalent to the size of the aircraft and double the four- two, "Smith said.

According to the survey, SAIL's trunk body seems to be poor and narrow to accommodate "heavy but dense masses of molten sulfur, rather than a large amount of space and air needed for passenger comfort." SAIL would therefore have a wider span of wings than length.

Engines would be modified versions of existing engines called "low-bypass". Although these engines exist, they are not very much used because they are not effective. However, these extreme altitudes do not perform other engines.

Two researchers suggest that it starts with 8 planes that fly around 4000 flights per year and increase annually by 4000 because more planes are listed online. 15 years after the start of operation, the fleet should be nearly 1000. It flew from a number of bases around the world, at 15 and 30 degrees north and south. The aim would be to inject ~ 0.1 Mt S in the first year, which then gradually increased by ~ 0.1 Mt per year.

Detailed SAIL Flight Activity Table. Picture of Smith and Wagner, 2018.
Detailed SAIL Flight Activity Table. Picture of Smith and Wagner, 2018.

Smith and Wagner came to the conclusion that their SAIL program would not be that expensive. Their analysis shows that the program would represent roughly $ 2.25 billion a year during the first 15 years of deployment. These include the design, testing and production of a new aircraft type, modification of existing engines and operating costs. This is not much compared to the $ 240 billion that the US economy has lost over the last decade due to climate change.

In a press release, Dr. Wagner said: "Given the potential benefits of reducing the average predicted increase in radiation from a certain day to the next, these figures refer to the" incredible economy "of solar geoengineering, and dozens of countries can fund this program and the technology required is not exotic.

The ultimate goal of SAIL would be to buy time. It would not solve our emissions problem. SAIL is only a temporary mitigation method. It does not destroy CO2 in the atmosphere and will not stop other effects of climate change, such as acidification of the oceans. It only reflects sunlight back into space.

Here's where it's going to be difficult. Given that Wagner and Smith are the right ones, should we use SAIL to combat climate change?

There are some concerns about the idea of ​​technological change in the climate. Some organizations are concerned that the development of this kind of technology would allow a dishonest regime to do it secretly. Authors distract this fear when they say it would not be possible to hide this level of flight activity involving partner countries around the world.

Smith said: "No global SAI program on the scale and nature discussed here could reasonably be expected to maintain secrecy. Even our projected deployment program in year 1 includes 4,000 flights at unusually high altitudes of aircraft size of several aircraft corridors in both hemispheres. "" It's too much of aviation activity to stay undetectable, and once it's discovered, such a program could be discouraged. "

Some climate change activists are cautious about the SAI because they think it will cause apathy to reduce emissions. It is said that we will rely on it and that we would create and apologize for not reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Geoengineering Monitor, you can explain and expand these concerns. They are concerned that large fossil fuel companies will fund geoengineering projects to enable them to continue their business as usual.

Geoengineering monitor
Manifest Geoengineering Monitor "HOME". It's a bit overly dramatic, but it gets to him. Image: Geoengineering Monitor.

In any case, the use of airplanes at altitude to combat climate change is all for discussion at this time. There is a so-called Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Under the CBD, 193 countries signed a moratorium on geoengineering and agreed that there must be a global mechanism that could manage it.

However, the SAIL program is a framework that will not begin until fifteen years. Is he 15 years old enough to create a global mechanism for a geoengineering plan to combat climate change? One would have hoped.

We're betting a corner. The longer we wait until we take meaningful steps in the field of emissions, the more expensive our measures will be. Our concerns, both founded and unjustified, will have to be overcome if we want to use SAIL to combat the effects of climate change.

We have come into this situation and will have to get out of it.


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