Credit: John McNeill, via UW News

A group of scientists, including a University of Washington atmospheric physicist, wants to test the theory that pumping sea salt into the sky over the ocean would combat global warming by creating clouds that reflect more sunlight back into space.

The experiment in “marine cloud brightening” is proposed by scientists including the UW’s Rob Wood in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The idea is to conduct a small-scale experiment to see if the approach would have the desired effect without unexpected consequences.

The theory is that water droplets will form around the particles of salt in the air to create big, long-lasting clouds.

In this UW article on the topic, Wood tells UW writer Nancy Gohring that the goals of the researchers are purely scientific. “I would rather that responsible scientists test the idea than groups that might have a vested interest in proving its success.”

He acknowledges that it’s not a long-term solution to global warming. “It’s a quick-fix idea when really what we need to do is move toward a low-carbon emission economy, which is turning out to be a long process,” he says. “I think we ought to know about the possibilities, just in case.”

The researchers would conduct the experiments initially from sprayers on a ship or barge, and they’ve put forward a conceptual image (above) showing an unmanned, remote-controlled ship that could spray the salt into the sky.

Others who have proposed similar ideas in “geoengineering” include Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft chief technology officer, whose “Stratoshield” would inject sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, aiming for a similar effect.

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  • saltwater rain

    Am I the only one wondering what the resulting salt-water rain would do to the rest of the world?

    • joethecoder

      Engage the law of unintended consequences.

      As anyone who has lived on a sea coast knows, things corrode a lot faster in the presence of salt spray. This is salt spray on a mega scale. What’s also not clear is how high these clouds will go. They don’t say anything about the effect of ultraviolet on upper atmosphere salt. As I recall, the IV idea of sulfur dioxide clouds was laughed at because of the creation of sulfuric acid.

  • Rogan

    Can they just borrow clouds from Seattle instead of making new ones? Seems cheaper and would make us happier.

  • Denis Du Bois

    If geoengineering starts to seem like a good idea, read Michael Specter’s excellent and well-researched article in The New Yorker. . It would require a consensus of nations to agree on and fund climate engineering, and that wouldn’t happen until it was a last resort.

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