Today in Geoengineering news

Giant pipe and balloon to pump water into the sky in climate experiment

Before the full-sized system can be deployed, the research team will test a scaled-down version of the balloon-and-hose design. Backed by a --1.6m government grant and the Royal Society, the team will send a balloon to a height of 1km over an undisclosed location. It will pump nothing more than water into the air, but it will allow climate scientists and engineers to gauge the engineering feasibility of the plan. Ultimately, they aim to test the impact of sulphates and other aerosol particles if they are sprayed directly into the stratosphere.

If the technical problems posed by controlling a massive balloon at more than twice the cruising height of a commercial airliner are resolved, then the team from Cambridge, Oxford, Reading and Bristol universities expect to move to full-scale solar radiation tests.

The luddites, of course, would prefer that no research be done at all:

"What is being floated is not only a hose but the whole idea of geo-engineering the planet. This is a huge waste of time and money and shows the UK government's disregard for UN processes. It is the first step in readying the hardware to inject particles into the stratosphere. It has no other purpose and it should not be allowed to go ahead," said Pat Mooney, chair of ETC Group in Canada, an NGO that supports socially responsible development of technology.

Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth UK, said: "We are going to have to look at new technologies which could suck CO2 out of the air. But we don't need to do is invest in harebrained schemes to reflect sunlight into space when we have no idea at all what impact this may have on weather systems around the globe."

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17 Responses:

  1. Jon says:

    the age of unintended consequences…

  2. Whatwouldjwzdo says:

    Everybody loves science except when it comes to conclusions they don't like.

    Seriously, you'd have to be a little dead inside not to think that this thing sounds enormously cool. Harebrained maybe, awesome yes :)
    Let's hope we get this whole CO2 thing sorted before the....ummm....novel solutions have to be deployed, but just in case I'm totally up for spending a million bucks on flying water balloon mister hose thingies that you might be able to see out of the window of a plane.

  3. imgx64 says:

    I'm not against this, but sulfate? Wouldn't that increase acid rain?

  4. Ben Brockert says:

    20km tall pipe of pure water: pressure at bottom is 28447psi. That's a very heavy duty pipe. Given losses, to actually pump stuff up the pipe will require quite a bit more pressure than that.

    If "hundreds of tonnes" is 200mt, and a 100% efficient pump, that requires a 605 horsepower pump just for the head pressure. Presumably running on coal, for irony.

    • Art Delano says:

      Or else they add pumps at intervals up the column, so no pump has to be more powerful than necessary to get water up to the next pump.

      • Ben Brockert says:

        The total amount of power needed is the same either way. That would reduce the maximum pressure, but it would take a good bit of engineering tradeoff to figure out if that makes the tether heavier or lighter.

    • Ben Cantrick says:

      > 20km tall pipe of pure water: pressure at bottom is 28447psi. That's a very heavy duty pipe

      I was wondering exactly how much a column of water 20 km high weighed. Thanks for doing the math!

      > that requires a 605 horsepower pump just for the head pressure. Presumably running on coal, for irony.

      I guess they could park the ship next to an offshore wind-farm and get their power from that.

      But I still say pumping water straight up 20km is a truly massive engineering hurdle, and there must be a better way.

      • Ben Brockert says:

        I ignored that gravity will go down a little bit at the top, as well as effects of latitude. There's also a gain of ~14psi for atmospheric reasons, so realistically 28000psi is about as many significant figures as I should have put.

        The big question is "what is the density of the stuff they actually want to pump". Viscosity is also going to be important.

  5. Amusing. The same climate scientists that are being accused for fraud in researching human caused climate disruption are the exact same scientists who will be called upon to manage the externalities of this geo-engineering intervention. The same fraudulent libertarians screaming about government influence in carbon pricing are unworried (strangely silent) about world government bodies deciding who wins and who loses from these geo-engineering climate interventions.

    I would oppose this research if there was even a shred of evidence of self-preserving rational appetite for effective carbon-pricing. But people will avoid diet and exercise and leap upon the promise of stomach stapling [and then usually proceed to glutton their way around the hardware and regain the weight]. This is the same, but in the large.

    So pump away. There will be some particularly surprised fish at the other end of that pipe...

  6. Pangolin says:

    So what exactly fuels the pumps and the ships that pump water into the sky? It wouldn't be say......fossil fuels?

    The only geo-engineering project that anybody has proposed that will sequester more GHGs than it releases is biochar. Even that gets a little silly as we would have to spend a hundred years converting ever spare bit of dry grass, twigs and prunings into charcoal and ploughing it into the soil. Then there's the problem that the world would be a tropical forest when we finished.

    • jwz says:

      But this isn't about carbon sequestration, it's about albedo reduction.

      • Pangolin says:

        That might help with the warming, might, but ignores the nasty ocean acidification problem. Considering the massive cost such a project would entail to get even a fraction of the albedo reduction needed we should maybe look elsewhere.

        Plus we already run this experiment every day where thousands of jets pump water vapor into the upper atmosphere. It doesn't seem to help much.

      • GFW says:

        White roofs and lighter pavement would also be about albedo without putting sulfates into the atmosphere where they will eventually cause acid rain (slowly because the sulfates have to migrate from the stratosphere to the troposphere before they rain out) on top of the ocean acidification from CO2. An albedo strategy with sulfates is simply irresponsible, with the potential to reduce crop yields and shift rainfall patterns.

        BTW, by the conventional definition of albedo, we're looking for ways to increase it, not decrease it.

        • Ben Brockert says:

          Roads and structures aren't that big, relative to the surface of the earth. Looking at unmarked imagery like MODIS rapidfire it's difficult to even find large cities like Dallas.

          An analysis of the carbon cost of painting all of the US's asphalt white (and keeping it white over the long term) vs. the actual reduction in global temperature would be interesting, but it seems a stretch. Painting roofs white has more benefit in reducing cooling costs than it does in reducing external temperature.

          • Brian B says:

            I read somewhere that painting a city-scale number of roofs white can be expected to lower local external temperature, maybe 1 degree or a bit more for a Philadelphia-sized burg. On a global scale that's piddling, but locally speaking it's not insignificant.

            • Richard says:

              "Albedo change" (white roofs, pavement, on a massive scale) is surprisingly (to me) significant and potentially effective, forming one of the 12 to 14 stablisation wedges which would have been necessary to avoid catastrophic planetary environmental deterioration, none of which are being undertaken.

          • GFW says:

            You're right that those manmade surfaces are still not currently a large percent of the total surface but as Brian (and you, regarding cooling costs) point out, it's a big deal for livability within urban areas. On the topic of asphalt, I wasn't talking about painting it - more like changing the formulation so new asphalt would be lighter to begin with. Similar with roofs, although painting over existing material is possible (indeed, I did so for part of my roof) better is to just make the common materials (composite shingles, tiles, etc.) in lighter shades.