Ship Tracks Over the Ocean Inspire Researchers For a Way to Cool The Earth

It's simple science really: Bright surfaces absorb less heat.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Ship tracks off of western U.S. coastNASA

Climate change is a given. There's no denying it. And up to now, it does not seem that we have found an effective way to deal with it. Now, a team based at the University of Washington the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and the Pacific Northwest National Library have come up with an innovative solution to tackle climate change by using clouds to thwart global warming.

"The Marine Cloud Brightening Project is an open, international collaboration of atmospheric scientists and other experts to advance understanding of cloud responses to aerosol particles. We specifically are interested in exploring the potential for intentionally brightening marine low clouds by augmenting the natural marine aerosol particle population, " write the researchers on their page.

The researchers got their inspiration from brighter clouds produced by ship emissions which in turn can produce a cooling effect via processes that occur naturally in the atmosphere. The researchers then pondered: What if they could achieve this cooling effect without releasing the greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants that ships emit? 

The researchers point to many advantages for their new system. For starters, it would use seawater to generate the particles in the sky which is a free, abundant source of environmentally harmless material, most of which would be returned to the ocean once the trials are finished. Their process could also be conducted from sea level and wouldn't rely on aircraft, making the costs and associated emissions of the project relatively low to non-existent.

Most Popular

The researchers are now working on a three-step approach. First, they are investigating whether they can reliably and predictably increase reflectivity in their human-generated clouds. Second, they are modeling their results to better understand how the project would affect the climate both locally and globally to avoid any negative unintended consequences. And third, they are studying how to produce a spray system that can produce the right size and concentration of particles needed for their field experiments. 

Overall the solution sounds very promising with few risks associated with it. However, until any project has undergone its first trials it is difficult to ascertain how successful it will be. Still, if it does work, the Marine Cloud Brightening Project would give us a much-needed effective and safe way to tackle climate change.

Read this article for a more in-depth look into the clash between geoengineering versus climate change.