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HomeGeneralScientists Propose Drying Out the Sky To Help Fix Climate Change

Scientists Propose Drying Out the Sky To Help Fix Climate Change

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Although it sounds like something off a movie scene, the idea to “dehydrate the stratosphere” to slow climate change is real. According to a new study released on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, researchers have proposed a new approach.

A picture of a clear climate
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They proposed a controversial geoengineering strategy to reduce global warming. However, it involves dehydrating the stratosphere by removing water vapor, the most abundant greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are the most critical drivers of human-caused climate change. 

However, water vapor remains the most common greenhouse gas. Researchers say removing it from the atmosphere would help mitigate climate change. In their study, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest trying “intentional stratosphere  dehydration.”

Study lead author Joshua Schwarz, a research physicist at NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, explained the study. Schwarz said the concept would involve seeding small particles known as ice nuclei into the stratosphere using high-altitude aircraft.

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Schwarz said if they introduce those seeds into the stratosphere, the water vapor would condense into ice and fall. Therefore, it will remove excess water vapor and dehydrate (at least partially) the stratosphere. Furthermore, the study suggests this strategy could work after overcoming several technical barriers.

However, he noted, “We don’t have a plan or the technology to do this.” When many asked if it would counteract the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2), Schwarz said it wouldn’t. “No,” he said, adding that it would only cool the atmosphere one-seventieth as much as CO2 is warming it. 

In addition, he noted that it would only be “a very small shift in the other direction.” Schwarz stated that CO2 remains a huge problem in Earth’s atmosphere. Hence, he asserts this method would only have a small impact compared to CO2.

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Although Schwarz makes a convincing case, other scientists are skeptical. Schwartz’s theory makes the proposal sound plausible, but many doubt its efficacy. “I have to be very skeptical,” said National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth. 

“Focusing on dehumidifying the stratosphere by itself makes no sense to me.” Similarly, Michael Mann, a meteorologist at the University of Pennsylvania, expressed his doubt and concern. “In this case, the authors concede many caveats,” Mann said. “One of the most critical being the potentially limited lifetime of the effect.”

“Like many of the proposed inventions, it would have to be done regularly to keep up the offsetting cooling effect,” he added. “And meanwhile, the CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere is there for the long term.” Geoengineering aims to manipulate some parts of the Earth’s systems to keep global warming under control.

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However, it acknowledges that the ideal solution remains a reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gasses. Researchers say geoengineering technologies are still underway and haven’t done large-scale experiments or operations.

Still, it remains a controversial topic. “The ethical questions associated with climate manipulation loom so large,” Trenberth wrote. “That some forms of geoengineering are simply unacceptable.” Also, Mann said, “These sorts of geoengineering gambits could easily become like climate methadone.” 

“And if the will or infrastructure for implementing this ever fails,” he added. “Then any climate benefit is lost while the CO2 accumulates.”

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