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We have technology. Airplanes Can Spray Particles into the Atmosphere to Combat Climate Change. But Should We?



If the climate change model is right, humanity works alone – and drags the rest of life on Earth with it – to the corner. The scientific demand for controlling emissions and climate change in the battle began to have several effects, but not enough. So now we have some tough decisions looming.

If you haven't heard the terms "solar geoengineering" and "stratospheric aerosol injection", you may need to get used to it. They represent scientifically and technologically realistic plans for controlling climate change when all governance and other economic models cannot solve them. This idea has been around for a while, but is considered too expensive in the past.

Now a new research paper in Environmental Research Letters analyzes what is needed to use aircraft to spray sulfate into the stratosphere to cool the climate. The two authors were Wake Smith from Yale, and Gernot Wagner from Harvard. And once you get past your surprise at the idea, if you feel that, this paper presents some parameters that are carefully thought out for the entire company.

"… a hypothetical deployment program that began 15 years from now, … technically it might be rigorous from an engineering perspective." – Dr. Gernot Wagner, co-Director of the Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program.

First of all, let's eliminate some myths. This has nothing to do with dimming the Sun, chemtrails, or mind control. There is nothing that humans can do that can dim the sun. Chemtrails is a dream of stupid fever, and mind control is just … anything. Smith and Wagner are serious people, and they deserve attention.

Wagner is a fellow researcher and lecturer at Harvard, co-Director of Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program, and author of the book "Climate Shock." Smith has an MBA and a career in commercial and financial aviation behind him, and writes about logistics and management costs for solar radiation and geo engineering. Both have complete equipment to carry out this research.

What are we really talking about here?

Let's imagine a world where scientists have discovered that our emissions are heating up the world and people are too reluctant to make changes to their emissions. Our methods of governance and economic methods do not complete work. You don't have to really imagine it because that's basically where we are.

In that situation, scientists are bound to try and come up with technological solutions while still hoping that politics and economics can finally do it right. And that brings us to these two ideas: solar geoengineering, and stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).

When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, soaring 20 million tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. Global temperatures fell 0.5 Celsius in the next few years. Image Credit: By the United States Geological Survey Photo taken by Richard P. Hoblitt. - Archived source links, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=545018
When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, soaring 20 million tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. Global temperatures fell 0.5 Celsius in the next few years. Image Credit: By the United States Geological Survey Photo taken by Richard P. Hoblitt. – Archived source links, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=545018

Solar geoengineering is also called "solar radiation management" (SRM). The idea is to make the atmosphere reflect more radiation. The sun returns to space. SRM seeks to improve Earth's albedo, or reflectivity.

Some SRM methods propose the protection and restoration of the Earth's natural reflective surfaces, such as sea ice, snow and glaciers. This will involve large engineering projects, and will be expensive. There is also no guarantee that they will function.

The new study released by Smith and Wagner focuses on another SRM that is much talked about: stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).

Stratosos Aerosol Injection is centered around the idea of ​​injecting sulfate into the atmosphere, about 20 kilometers high, in the stratosphere. There is a reason that SAI can overcome most climate change, become relatively inexpensive, can have an effect quickly, and will be reversible in its immediate climate effect. That sounds pretty good, but there are some drawbacks.

The initial idea in SAI was proposed to use artillery, existing planes, or balloons to inject sulfates, or their precursors, into the stratosphere. But each has its own problems. New research focuses on developing new aircraft to send sulfates to the stratosphere.

Flying 20 kilometers high into the stratosphere is not an easy thing to do. It's not something we have to do just a few times, so we can use expensive rockets and consume the cost. The successful SAI project will be a multi-year project involving a special fleet of aircraft stationed at several bases around the world.

In their study, Smith and Wagner analyzed the costs and development schedule for a fleet of aircraft that could halve the increase in transmission of anthropogenic radiation. The fleet will start small and grow over time, and will start operating in 15 years. They looked at the plane and concluded that nothing was practical. 15 years allow sufficient time to develop the aircraft needed and make it tested and licensed.

This study looked at existing planes such as NASA's Global Hawk. Can carry large loads to high altitude for 24 hours. But the Global Hawk, like all other aircraft, is unable to meet SAIL requirements. Image Credit: NASA Photo / Tom MIller
This study looked at existing planes such as NASA's Global Hawk. Can carry large loads to high altitude for 24 hours. But the Global Hawk, like all other aircraft, is unable to meet SAIL requirements. Image Credit: NASA Photo / Tom MIller

"There are no planes that have a combination of height and cargo capability needed." – Wake Smith, co-author of the study.

Continuous flights at an altitude of 20 km require special aircraft. Fuselage and wings must be different from anything we have now, and the machine must be specialized. To conduct their study, they consulted with several aircraft manufacturers, engine manufacturers and other companies including Airbus, Atlas Air, Boeing, Bombardier, GE Engine, Gulfstream, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Near Space Corporation, Northrup Grumman, Rolls Royce Engines, and etc. .

They called the proposed SAIL plane: Stratosfos Aerosol Injection Lofter.

Both researchers are clear about their motives. They did not make judgments about the use of SAIL to combat climate change. They just want to perfect the idea and see what a realistic SAI program looks like, and what the timeline and effectiveness is.

One study author, Dr. Gernot Wagner, said, "Although we did not make judgments about SAI's desires, we pointed out that a hypothetical deployment program that began 15 years from now, while both were very uncertain and ambitious, would be technically possible from a strict perspective engineering. This will also be very cheap, with an average of around $ 2 to 2.5 billion per year for the first 15 years. "

Other studies have concluded that existing planes can be modified for climate change battles, but a pair of scientists found that was not the case. In a press release, Wake Smith said, "I became interested in engineering questions about SAI and a lot of research was intended to show that modified aircraft could do the job. Apparently that wasn't so. That would indeed take a completely new aircraft design to do SAI under reasonable despite the full hypothetical parameters. There are no planes that have a combination of height and load capability required. "

NASA WB-57 is another high-altitude research aircraft that the study authors consider unsuitable for SAIL. Image: NASA / Johnson Space Center.
NASA WB-57 is another high-altitude research aircraft that is considered unsuitable for SAIL by the study authors. Image: NASA / Johnson Space Center.

The new SAIL aircraft needs to carry a load of 25 tons to an altitude of 20 km and maintain flights there. So what is this new plane like?

The aircraft itself will need larger wings, double the size of the current aircraft, and double its thrust too. "We developed specifications for SAIL with direct input from several aerospace and machinery companies. It weighs the equivalent of a large narrow body passenger plane. But to maintain a flight level of 20 km, it takes about twice the size of the same-sized aircraft wing, and double the thrust, with four engines, not two, "Smith said.

According to research, the SAIL fuselage will look fat and narrow, sized to accommodate "the mass of liquid sulfur that is thick but dense, rather than the large volume of space and air needed for passenger comfort. Therefore, SAIL has a wingspan that is far wider than the length. "

The engine is a modified version of an existing engine called a "low bypass." Even though these engines exist, they are not widely used because they are not fuel efficient. They are out-doing other machines at this extreme height though.

The two researchers proposed starting with 8 airplanes flying around 4000 flights per year, and increasing by 4000 each year because more aircraft were brought online. 15 years after starting operations, the fleet will amount to almost 1000. They will fly from various bases around the world, at latitude 15 and 30 degrees north and south of the equator. The aim is to inject ~ 0.1 Mt S in one year, increasing at a rate of ~ 0.1 Mt a year later.

Detailed table of SAIL flight activities. Picture: Smith and Wagner, 2018.
Detailed table of SAIL flight activities. Picture: Smith and Wagner, 2018.

Smith and Wagner concluded that their SAIL program would not be that expensive. Their analysis shows that this program will cost around $ 2.25 billion per year for the first 15 years of deployment. This includes the design, testing and manufacture of new aircraft types, existing engine modifications, and operational costs. That's not much compared to the $ 240 billion that has been lost in the last decade due to climate change.

In a press release, Dr. Wagner said, "Given the potential benefits of halving the average increase projected radiatively from a certain date and so on, these numbers call 'extraordinary economics & # 39; from solar geoengineering. Dozens of countries can fund such programs, and the technology needed is not too exotic. "

The main goal of the SAIL program is to give us time. That won't solve our emissions problem. SAIL is only a temporary mitigation method. It will not reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and that will not stop other effects of climate change such as ocean acidification. It only reflects some of the sunlight back into space.

This is where it gets complicated. Assuming that Wagner and Smith are right, should we use SAIL to combat climate change?

There are some fears surrounding the idea of ​​technological climate modification. Some organizations fear that developing this kind of technology will allow the rogue regime to do so in secret. The authors dispel this fear, saying that it is impossible to hide the level of flight activity involving partner countries around the world.

Smith said, "There is no global SAI program of the scale and nature discussed here that can be expected to maintain confidentiality. Even our first-year testing program which was hypothesized requires 4000 flights at very high altitude by aircraft sized planes in several flight corridors in both hemispheres. This is too much flight activity to remain undetected, and once detected, such a program can be prevented. "

Some climate change activists are wary of SAI because they think it will create apathy towards reducing emissions. They say we will depend on it, and will create and reason not to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. While on Geoengineering Monitor you can find these concerns explained and expanded. They worry that large companies involved in extraction of fossil fuels will fund geoengineering projects that will enable them to continue business as usual.

Geoengineering monitor
"HOME HOME Manifesto" from The Geoengineering Monitor This is a little too dramatic, but it makes their point pass. Image: Geoengineering monitor.

In any case, using high altitude aircraft to fight climate change is all for the purpose of discussion at this time. There is a body called the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Under the CBD, 193 countries signed a geoengineering moratorium and agreed that there needs to be a global mechanism to regulate it.

But the SAIL program is a framework that will not start operations for up to 15 years from now. It's been 15 years long to develop a global mechanism for geoerineering plans to combat climate change? People will hope so.

We support ourselves in the corner. The longer we wait to take action that means emissions, the more difficult our steps will be. Our fears, both founded and unfounded, need to be overcome if we want to use SAIL to counter the effects of climate change.

We went into this situation and we had to get out of it.


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