Blowing off some steam…
The Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change.
The society will this week call for a global programme of studies into geo-engineering — the manipulation of the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming — as the world struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
It will suggest in a report that pouring sulphur-based particles into the upper atmosphere could be one of the few options available to humanity to keep the world cool.
The intervention by the Royal Society comes amid tension ahead of the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen in December to agree global cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Preliminary discussions have gone so badly that many scientists believe geo-engineering will be needed as a “plan B”.
Ken Caldeira, an earth scientist at Stanford University, California, and a member of a Royal Society working group on geo-engineering, said dust sprayed into the stratosphere in volcanic eruptions was known to cool the Earth by reflecting light back into space.
“If I had a dollar for geo-engineering research I would put 90 cents of it into stratospheric aerosols and 10 cents into everything else,” said Caldeira. The interest in so-called aerosols is linked to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The explosion blasted up to 20m tons of tiny sulphur particles into the air, cooling the planet by about 0.5C before they fell back to earth.