Climate fix technical test put on hold
By RICHARD BLACK - BBC NEWS - SCIENCE & ENVIRONMENT
Added: Sun, 02 Oct 2011 11:50:45 UTC
A pioneering test of a climate "tech fix" planned for October faces a six-month delay as scientists discuss the issues it raises with their critics.
The test is part of the UK-based Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (Spice) project.
It would use a balloon and a kilometre-long hose to spray water into the upper atmosphere - a prelude to spraying climate-cooling sulphate particles.
But the funders believe that more talks about the social aspects are needed.
Injection of sulphate aerosols is designed to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions
The project is supported to the tune of £1.6m by UK research councils, including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), whose independent advisory panel recommended the delay last week.
The test would have put the UK at the forefront of practical climate engineering research.
Dr Matt Watson of the UK's Bristol University, who leads the overall project, said he endorsed the decision, although his team had been "taken aback" when they first heard the news.
"We're talking about a pressure washer you could buy in a hardware shop, a long hose, and two bathloads of water, so you couldn't have a more benign experiment," he told BBC News.
"But in the end it's the social context that's important - and we realise there's no point in having the (ESPRC independent panel) process unless we're going to work with it."
The initial deployment, due to take place from an abandoned airfield in Sculthorpe, Norfolk, will almost certainly not take place before April.
If and when it does happen, the balloon will be allowed to rise to an altitude of 1km, tethered to the ground with reinforced hosepipe.
The pressure washer will pump water from the ground and spray it from the end of the hosepipe. Researchers will use the set-up to investigate practicalities such as how the balloon and the pipe react to high winds.
A planned series of further trials is envisaged, eventually answering the question of whether it would ever be practical to put large quantities of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere this way.
The principle behind the idea is that high-altitude aerosols would cool the planet's surface by reflecting solar energy back into space, mimicking the effect of huge volcanic eruptions.
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