Shoot up and cool down: fighting global warming

Jul 27, 2006

Injecting sulfur into the atmosphere to slow down global warming is worthy of serious consideration, according to Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. His thought-provoking paper is published in the August issue of the Springer journal Climatic Change, devoted this month to the controversial field of geoengineering.

Fossil fuel burning releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes significantly to global warming. Burning of fossil fuel also releases sulfur into the earth's atmosphere, in the form of sulfate particles. Ironically, these sulfate particles help to cool down the planet by reflecting solar radiation back into space. Crutzen's proposed planet-saving scheme, which artificially injects sulfur into the earth's stratosphere (the second atmospheric layer closest to earth) to offset greenhouse gas warming, is based on this phenomenon.

His "albedo* enhancement method", or, in other words, his proposed way of increasing the earth's reflective powers so that a significant proportion of solar radiation is reflected back into space, aims to replicate the cooling effect these man-made sulfate particles achieve.

This phenomenon is also observed during volcanic eruptions. Crutzen uses the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 as a model for his idea . The volcanic eruption injected sulfur into the stratosphere. The enhanced reflection of solar radiation to space by the particles cooled the earth's surface by an average of 0.5OC in the year following the eruption.

In Crutzen's experiment, artificially enhancing earth's reflective powers would be achieved by carrying sulfur into the stratosphere on balloons, using artillery guns to release it. In contrast to the slowly developing effects of global warming associated with man-made carbon dioxide emissions, the climatic response of the albedo enhancement method could theoretically start taking effect within six months. The reflective particles could remain in the stratosphere for up to two years.

"Given the grossly disappointing international political response to the required greenhouse gas emissions,…research on the feasibility and environmental consequences of climate engineering of the kind presented in this paper, which might need to be deployed in future, should not be tabooed," says Crutzen. He adds that his experiment should only be used as an emergency measure: "the possibility of the albedo enhancement scheme should not be used to justify inadequate climate policies but merely to create a possibility to combat potentially drastic climate heating."

Citation: Crutzen P (2006). Albedo enhancement by stratospheric sulfur injections: a contribution to resolve a policy dilemma? Climatic Change; DOI 10.1007/s10584-006-9101-y

* Albedo: whiteness; the ratio which the light reflected from an unpolished surface bears to the total light falling upon that surface.

Source: Springer

Explore further: Strong quake hits east Indonesia; no tsunami threat

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Small volcanic eruptions could be slowing global warming

Nov 18, 2014

Small volcanic eruptions might eject more of an atmosphere-cooling gas into Earth's upper atmosphere than previously thought, potentially contributing to the recent slowdown in global warming, according to ...

Volcano expert comments on Japan eruption

Oct 01, 2014

Loÿc Vanderkluysen, PhD, who recently joined Drexel as an assistant professor in Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, returned Friday from fieldwork ...

Scientific instruments of Rosetta's Philae lander

Sep 23, 2014

When traveling to far off lands, one packs carefully. What you carry must be comprehensive but not so much that it is a burden. And once you arrive, you must be prepared to do something extraordinary to make ...

Recommended for you

Strong quake hits east Indonesia; no tsunami threat

12 hours ago

A strong earthquake struck off the coast of eastern Indonesia on Sunday evening, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, and authorities said there was no threat of a tsunami.

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

Dec 19, 2014

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

Dec 19, 2014

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.