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Geoengineering: Unsafe & Ineffective Folly

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The climate crisis is accelerating (as anticipated): weird fluctuations of temperatures all over. It was colder than at the North Pole in many areas, 6,000 kilometers to the south. Some scientists contribute to the crisis by claiming that the Earth could be fixed by “geoengineering”. The idea is to make the atmosphere reflective above its lowest, and warmest layers. The prospect of salvational geoengineering  gives a dangerous sense of hope, and enable cowards to change the conversation. The one and only conversation ought to be: how to reduce Greenhouse gases emissions before self-feeding natural processes take over, and the warming becomes not just non-linear, but self-amplifying.

Above freezing, at the North Pole, in the last few days of 2015: enormous warm masses of air or water moving powerfully is how ice gets destroyed.
Above freezing, at the North Pole, in the last few days of 2015: enormous warm masses of air or water moving powerfully is how ice gets destroyed.

Above freezing, at the North Pole, in the last few days of 2015: enormous warm masses of air or water moving powerfully is how ice gets destroyed.

Gregory Benford, astrophysicist and sci fi author is one of the advocates of the man-made volcano idea. See Climate controls, Reason Magazine, November 1997. In brief, one would spray a lot of micron-sized dust into the atmosphere above the Arctic Sea during the summer. Benford suggested diatomaceous earth as an option, because it’s chemically inert: just silica.

Then, thinking again, Benford suggested poisonous gases: SO2 and H2S. What could go wrong? Apprentice sorcerers would sprinkle those poisons to diminish sunlight in summer (they say). Simulations by the naive, for the naive, show it may mitigate sea ice retreat.

In reality, Polar hurricanes can shatter huge amounts of ice, while stuffing the Arctic for weeks with warm air, resulting in record sea ice loss. The spectacular shrinkage of the sea ice in August 2012 was caused by an extremely violent warm, hurricane like storm which physically broke thick ice with enormous waves.

There is evidence that ice melting is not just due to a warm sunshine, but to the secondary paroxysms of massive dynamic and potential (pressure) events. Sprinkling a hurricane with SO2 won’t do a thing, one may as well throw sugar at a tempest to pacify it.

When the Larsen B iceshelf in the Antarctica peninsula collapsed, something similar happened: four days of force one hurricane winds and a record high temperature of nearly 15 degrees centigrade (60 F).

Benford was quoted approvingly even recently on his general train of ideas: “Many fear if we lose the sea ice in summer ocean currents may alter; nobody really knows”. May alter? Well, that’s obsolete: currents are changing and they are warmer.

The naive idea that we have possible, feasible, potential geoengineering means to fight the melting of the polar ice. Delusion, illusion, obfuscation, prevarication, not to say fornication (with big oil).

Trying to put up a veil over polar areas (through various debris or SO2 suspended) will not work. But don’t volcanoes work? The enormous eruptions of Pinatubo, and the one, much worse of Indonesia’s Tambora in 1815, cooled the atmosphere dramatically (Tambora’s atmospheric veil caused freezing the following summer in Europe, and partial failure of crops).

The main problem is that the melting of the Arctic and even worse, the melting of the Antarctic, is going to happen from BELOW. Sneaky. It is oceanic water, densest at four degrees centigrades (nearly 40 degrees F) which is seeping below, and causing the melting.

An article just published in Science (December 2015) explains that one particular, giant glacier has retreated by tens of kilometers, after being exposed to oceanic currents which are just ONE degree centigrade higher than the old normal, along the north-east tip of Greenland. Those currents are the return currents from the Gulf Stream extension which hit Spitzberg.

To quote from the abstract: “After 8 years of decay of its ice shelf, Zachariæ Isstrøm, a major glacier of northeast Greenland that holds a 0.5-meter sea-level rise equivalent, entered a phase of accelerated retreat in fall 2012. The acceleration rate of its ice velocity tripled, melting of its residual ice shelf and thinning of its grounded portion doubled, and calving is now occurring at its grounding line. Warmer air and ocean temperatures have caused the glacier to detach from a stabilizing sill and retreat rapidly along a downward-sloping, marine-based bed. Its equal-ice-volume neighbor, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, is also melting rapidly but retreating slowly along an upward-sloping bed. The destabilization of this marine-based sector will increase sea-level rise from the Greenland Ice Sheet for decades to come.”

So the real problem is not to throw a veil above the Arctic, when the sun shines. The real problem is how to cool the Gulf Stream, (a portion of) the world’s master current. (Note to would-be geoengineers: putting a big refrigerator between Florida and the Bahamas, will not work, for a number of reasons.)

Measurements and a back of the envelope computation shows that the anomalous heat content so far stored in the upper 750 meters of the world ocean is about twenty times that stored in the atmosphere… And the ocean is playing catch up (the temperature of this layer is up only half that of the atmosphere; deeper parts are also warming up).

We are coming close to a tipping point on three giant basins in Antarctica (the WAIS, Aurora, and Wilke basins): oceanic water is boring through the sills there. After the sill, the basin slope down (under the weight of the ice), deeper than the Grand Canyon. The melting of each of these basins will rise sea level by seven meters.

Conclusion: only the outlawing, ASAP, of the burning of fossil fuels will mitigate the catastrophe. Anything else, like Elementary School engineering suggestions, is a distraction from the task at hand: decarbonification.

Engineering can work: modern nuclear energy, ever improving solar photovoltaic energy, and various storages, from dams, to molten salt tanks, to, of course hydrogen.

A hydrogen electric car equipped with existing fuel cells, an 40 kilograms of compressed hydrogen, safely stored in tanks resisting to 700 Bars, thus, to any collision), could cross the entire USA, without refueling.

This is exactly why the Obama administration yanked the research and deployment of those cars: otherwise pure electric vehicles and their abysmal small little range, would not have had a chance… Politics is a much twisted thing, but its Arianne thread is money… Such as the big money subtle corruption brings.

Solar PhotoVoltaics could split water, and make hydrogen to store energy, of course.

Patrice Ayme’

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