Scientists are now planning to conduct a solar geoengineering experiment as early as next year.

Researchers from Harvard University are now preparing to test the potential effects of solar geoengineering on our planet and if it could be used to battle global warming. The $3 million USD experiment, called SCoPEx (Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment), aims to perform real-world experiments on long-held scientific theories.

Last month, Harvard and Yale University researchers made headlines after they proposed to “dim the Sun”. Their idea involves releasing large amounts of sulfate particles into the lower stratosphere to block light coming from the Sun.

In their paper, the team admitted that while the technique may sound feasible, it is still purely hypothetical. However, it may not be the case once the SCoPEx program begins.

Aerosol in air
Clouds in clean air are made up of large droplets and appear to be darker (Left). Clouds with a high concentration of aerosols are denser, very reflective, and are bright white (Right). | Rober Simmon | NASA Earth Observatory

Solar Geoengineering

Solar geoengineering is a set of hypothetical technologies that could lower global warming by reflecting sunlight away from our planet. For their experiment, the Harvard researchers will fly a high-altitude balloon into the stratosphere to an altitude of about 20 kilometers.

Once it reaches the desired altitude level, the balloon will release a small aerosol plume of calcium carbonate. The payload will then scatter and cover an area of about 1 kilometer.

The high-altitude balloon will fly within the aerosol plume area for around 24 hours. While there, it will gather information about the particles’ behavior and evolution in the atmosphere.

The team noted that the experiment would replicate the similar effects caused by a volcanic eruption. In doing so, it will give scientists an overview of how the sunlight-reflecting particles could cool down Earth’s temperature.

However, solar geoengineering is a controversial technique that many believe would cause more damage to the environment if not regulated.

“But solar geoengineering is not the answer. Cutting incoming solar radiation affects the weather and hydrological cycle. It promotes drought. It destabilizes things and could cause wars. The side effects are many, and our models are just not good enough to predict the outcomes,” Kevin Trenberth, a lead author for the United Nation’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, was quoted as saying.

The Harvard researchers reiterate the claim that solar reengineering is just a delaying tactic and not the actual solution to climate change.

“Solar reengineering is a supplement, and in the end, we still have to cut emissions,” David Keith, one of the SCoPEx researchers, said.

Do you believe that solar geoengineering will solve the global warming problem we’re all facing right now?

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