This article briefly summarizes solar radiation management and weather modification— and discusses their potential effects on weather, climate and environment.
GEOENGINEERING AND CLIMATE ENGINEERING
Geoengineering (with or without the hyphen) in general is the deliberate modification of the Earth (or any planet) to suit human needs. Geoengineering could be approached any number of ways.
Climate engineering, as scientists discuss it today, is the attempt to find ways to adjust Earth's climate to counter the effects of climate change.
"CO2 stays in the upper atmosphere indefinitely... if we stopped all global emissions today, we'd still be screwed." Dr. Julio Friedman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal, Office of Fossil Energy at US Department of Energy
APPROACHES TO CLIMATE ENGINEERING
Most scientists today believe that anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is primarily the result of a global warming pattern induced by the greenhouse effect, which is caused by a buildup of CO2 gas in the atmosphere. Therefore, current climate engineering discussions involve four main ideas in general1:
- CO2 emissions reduction
- CO2 removal
- Alternative energy sources
- Solar radiation management (SRM)
However, when we discuss climate engineering (more commonly but less accurately referred to as "geoengineering"), the focus is on solar radiation management because:
- We have very little chance of creating any impact through CO2 reduction;
- We have no practical way to remove and sequester enough CO2 to make an impact;
- So far our alternative energy sources are not making a significant impact;
- Solar radiation management (SRM) is the only "solution" that we can actually execute to make a significant impact on the climate.
SOLAR RADIATION MANAGEMENT APPROACHES
Of the many different innovative SRM ideas proposed, two techniques have been considered practical enough to employ. One is experimental and has not yet been tried on a large scale; the other has already been used for many decades.
SRM through Weather Modification
Most of the western states in the US have ongoing weather modification programs that use atmospheric cloud seeding for precipitation enhancement, as do most industrialized counties around the world.2 Some states have been using cloud seeding to increase water supplies since the 1960s, when silver iodide cloud seeding began.
Weather modification programs around the world use cloud seeding for precipitation enhancement, but it's also been proposed as a solar radiation management technique.
Deliberate Artificial Cloud Production
Some climate engineers have theorized that increasing the abundance of clouds would also increase the Earth's albedo (brightness) and deflect some solar radiation back into space. This approach uses cloud seeding techniques (salt-based chemical aerosols) to thicken clouds by increasing the amount of cloud condensation nuclei for moisture to bond with. However, experiments so far have achieved minimal results as far as proving this approach helps at all.3
But there's a much bigger problem with this method, too. More clouds also means more insulation, which helps to keep heat from radiating away from the planet's surface. That means the more daytime temperatures decrease to due shade, the more nighttime temperatures increase because of additional insulation.
Inadverent Artificial Cloud Production
Worse yet, the aerosol chemicals (AgI flares that are regularly used in routine, non-experimental weather modification practices) combine with the moisture from jet aircraft exhaust, frequently spawning thick contrail clouds at higher altitudes. This creates a double layer of cloud insulation that traps heat more effectively. According to the Vonnegut Theory, these artificial clouds created by aircraft are the primary cause of global warming patterns and climate change.
"The climate change we talk about... in other words, "global warming"... well, yes, but if we get rid of these man-made clouds from the jets, we're going to cool down. Because a clear sky allows the heat to radiate away from the Earth." Rosalind Peterson, President and Co-Founder of the Agriculture Defense Coalition
Ongoing high-altitude weather modification programs to enhance precipitation thicken clouds and increase cloud cover, and also contribute to cloud production in cloudless areas in front of storms. When thick artificial clouds are formed, they shade the ground, reducing the temperature and air pressure below them. This also produces and accelerates wind. Since the jet stream usually carries western weather eastward, intensifying storms throughout the Western United States may increasing the potential for floods and extreme weather in the eastern states.
"None of the climate experts I've spoken with have been aware of important facts about the widepread weather modification programs that exist in the United States and in almost any country you can name." Dave Dahl, Cloud Researcher
The "Stratospheric Sunscreen"
Climatologists have been proposing a second kind of SRM. Instead of enhancing clouds, this method would involve creating sulfur or metallic aerosol clouds in the upper atmosphere. As of 2014, no documented government programs have been conducted using this technique, but many climate scientists believe large-scale aerosol operations are the only way to reduce solar radiation and stop global warming trends.
"One technique that we do know works for sure is putting aerosols in the stratosphere. We know that we could put enough aerosols to more than offset doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere." Dr. Jane Long, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Center for Global Strategic Research
The idea of stratospheric aerosol distribution is to achieve a "volcano effect" in which solar radiation is blocked by clouds of sulfur (sulfur dioxide is most commonly proposed), dispersed by aircraft. But there are many complications and problems with this approach, and there's potential for huge, unpredictable negative consequences.
One of the main problems might be that climatologists and would-be climate engineers seem to be unaware of important facts about existing aerosol operations, including how many weather modification programs exists, the amount of cloud-thickening chemicals already being added to the atmosphere, and the effects of these ongoing programs on the weather and climate.
"Government agencies want to blame tree decline on climate change, without realizing that we're engaging in weather modification programs across the United States." Rosalind Peterson, President and Co-Founder of the Agriculture Defense Coalition
WEATHER MODIFICATION, ENVIRONMENT AND AGRICULTURE
Cloud seeding to enhance precipitation ("weather modification") has become a standard way to increase water supplies. Because water supplies are low in most arid regions, weather modification companies are hired to seed clouds to increase rain and snowpack.
Cloud seeding is most commonly accomplished by igniting flares in the atmosphere that emit silver iodide— silver nitrate and potassium iodide— to increase the abundance of cloud condensation nuclei, which "thickens" storm clouds. These flares also contain toxic incendiary chemicals, including magnesium, strontium and aluminum.
The most immediate concern might be the effects on the soil. The result of continuously adding potassium iodide chemicals (the primary material in cloud seeding flares) to the soil is drastically increased pH levels. Some scientists believe the buildup of these cloud-seeding chemicals in the soil has caused massive tree die-offs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where heavy cloud seeding has been conducted every year for over half a century.
"Stress and die-back has occured from Alaska to Mexico. Since 1997, nearly twenty million hectares or fifty million acres have been affected." Allan Buckman, biologist, former environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish & Game
And there are many more potentially devastating consequences of interrupting natural atmospheric processes, including increased lung disease and the effects on insects, animals and agriculture as the aerosolized metal chemicals continue to build up in the environment.