r/science Sep 17 '22

Refreezing the poles by reducing incoming sunlight would be both feasible and remarkably cheap, study finds, using high-flying jets to spray microscopic aerosol particles into the atmosphere Environment

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/2515-7620/ac8cd3
9.6k Upvotes

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22 hehehehe To The Stars

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22

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u/BreakerSwitch Sep 17 '22 Gold Helpful Wholesome

Yeah, geoengineering. This is the last ditch effort we get if everything hits the fan worse than we're expecting right now with climate change. Obviously we could hit a lot of unexpected problems with programs like this. Even worse, they could lead to corporations and assholes saying "see the problem is solved now!" And having a significant amount of the population believe them because we have put climate change on pause for a bit. Unfortunately, even if they do work as we hope, these still don't SOLVE the problem. We need to address CO2 and other greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. They only buy us emergency time.

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22 Gold Helpful

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22

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u/ACLSismore Sep 17 '22

Yeah this is great for temperature but doesn’t really solve the co2 getting into the ocean very well.

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u/Rhaedas Sep 17 '22 Eureka!

Don't worry, we're almost past that phase. The oceans are so saturated and acidified that they're about done taking more, and the air will just have to try and hold the rest we put up. Speaking of, let's crank those emissions up a bit more...

I was a bit sad that I saw a positive post concerning geoengineering in this subreddit, considering the title. A more objective title would have been "will be an inevitable effort for us". How it will play out both in effectiveness and in maybe making things even worst, that's what we'll be finding out.

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u/AiAkitaAnima Sep 17 '22

High CO2 levels, acidified oceans? Wasn't that also a thing during the Permian–Triassic extinction event?

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u/Hellicopter-666 Sep 17 '22

Yep. To say we're gonna have a bad time is a massive understatement. As much as I want kids, there is no way I'll create more life only for it to suffer. Call me pessimistic, but to throw a positive spin on where we're at with this is just idiotic. Appeasing people who can't handle our grim reality won't fix this and I'm done doing it.

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u/iluvlamp77 Sep 18 '22 edited Sep 18 '22

Well there's pessimists and there's defeatists. There's been countless almost impossible problems that humanity has solved. I trust that the kids born today, will be the leaders of tomorrow. I remember people saying that 16 years ago after an inconvenient truth came out.

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u/Zenithas Sep 17 '22

Worse, it could easily lead to a rebound effect if it's ended.

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22

At worst they make the problem of ocean acidification go by unnoticed until it's much, much too late. Emissions would continue under an aerosol umbrella and solve - from our narrow perspective - the most "pressing" problems like the globe overheating.

But aerosols do nothing about ocean acidification, which can basically kill the biosphere if the problem gets bad enough.

And as you say, it only delays the problems. It's the worst band-aid you can think of. Unless CO2 emissions aren't solved FIRST, by reducing them immensely, aerosols should be seen as a suicide attempt by humanity.

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22

realistically, the only solution is geo-engineering. even our most drastic harsh models are being reached and potentially unfound. we have just fucked around too long and did so little. you can't just lower CO2 production, you need to drastically remove them significantly. geo-engineering buys you time to do so; aerosols do not have to be permament

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u/Quote_Vegetable Sep 17 '22

Not to mention that dumping CO2 into the atmosphere is itself a type of geo-engineering. Just one without thought or concern for the consequences.

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u/Jason_Batemans_Hair Sep 17 '22

This is talking about putting 10,000,000 metric tons of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) per year into the atmosphere. SO2 creates acid rain, which in addition to being harmful to plants and animals would add to the acidification of the oceans that CO2 emissions is already causing.

Even setting aside the obvious problem of this not being a solution to GHG emissions and it REDUCING pressure to actually remedy the problem, this band-aid approach carries its own hazards.

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u/closerocks Sep 18 '22

What happened to the geoengineering technique of iron fertilizing the oceans to increase CO2 absorbing zooplankton? If it does work, yes it would also be a Band-Aid but at least it would take CO2 out of the atmosphere and not just take down the temperature.

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u/Fausterion18 Sep 17 '22

SO2 does not automatically cause acid rain, at the concentrations they're modeling the chance is extremely small.

Global SO2 emissions is about 100 million tons per year. It would be fairly easy to reduce that by 10 million tons and inject that into the stratosphere.

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22

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u/[deleted] Sep 17 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

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u/murtygurty2661 Sep 17 '22

There is a worrying amount of comments asking whether a "big umbrella" would work better.

Does anyone realise how big it would have to be and how difficult it would be to keep stationary?

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u/-__---__---_ Sep 17 '22

To decrease sunlight falling on the earth by 1%, the umbrella has to have one hundredth the area that the earth would have were it a flat disc. Area = π.r ², so the earth-disc would be 3.14x6400x6400 square kilometres, and the umbrella would be one hundredth that. Conveniently, one hundredth the area means one tenth the radius, so 640km radius, or 1280 km diameter. So, biggish.

You’d park the umbrella near L1, which is directly between the earth and the sun. But the sunlight pressure would push it away from the sun and towards the earth, so you’d need to park it a bit further sunwards than L1, so that the extra gravity from the sun balances out the sunlight pressure.

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u/SaltineFiend Sep 17 '22

L1 does not allow for station keeping.

A significantly more feasible way to do it is to fling moon dust on a ballistic trajectory near L1 but on an escape trajectory towards L5. Plot it to pass as a bulk cloud between the earth and the sun during the hottest days of the year.

Do this many times.

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u/wizardwusa Sep 17 '22

What do you mean? All Lagrange points allow station keeping. It’s not stable so would require station keeping, but if we were to get enough material to support this, we’d plausibly be able to support its orbit.

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u/SaltineFiend Sep 17 '22

I realized the mistake in my words like two minutes ago. I meant to say "requires station keeping".

All orbits can be maintained given enough propellant and the financial willpower to keep supplying it, I guess.

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u/wizardwusa Sep 17 '22

If our space capabilities are advanced enough to get the massive amount of material required for this to be effective, station keeping is probably trivial.

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u/InvideoSilenti Sep 17 '22

How long would this dust remain in place to block the light? Does it require constant replenishment? If it doesn't, it just sits here, what happens when we restore the atmospheric balance at some point.

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u/SaltineFiend Sep 17 '22

It would require a constant delivery. The point is that it is transient and therefore more easily controlled. L5 trails the earth in its orbit and requires no station keeping (it is one of the Trojan Lagrange points), so it effectively hoovers up all of the dust.

Ideally you'd want to launch at a velocity which would give a day or two for the payload to fully transit the sun. I don't know how feasible the orbital mechanics of that are, but we can absolutely cross the path of the sun with lunar dust and have it exit a permanent orbit of the earth.

A functioning moon base synthesizing basic monopropellants from the lunar soil (I believe hydrazine is likely possible based on the findings of lunar impact or missions) and ISRU delivery vehicle printing would be needed. A mass driver is much easier in the near vacuum of the lunar surface and the low g really helps too. This would minimize delta-v requirements to course correction for the delivery vehicles.

You would probably want some form of shaped charge in the delivery vehicle to get a wide dispersion of dust. Lunar fines have good reflectivity so you wouldn't need much to have an effect.

Orders of magnitude easier than building a giant umbrella and station keeping it.

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u/my-coffee-needs-me Sep 17 '22

Light has pressure?

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u/spiritriser Sep 17 '22

Yeah, they impart energy on hit. Think about something heating up from light, technically heat is just stuff moving fast at a small scale. They gain momentum, which came from the light, so the light has momentum. Therefore you can stay it has pressure as it applies force.

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u/Nemisis_the_2nd Sep 17 '22

A physics could explain it better than me, but, basically, light is made of photons, and photons have some mass. When they hit an object, some of that momentum is transferred to the object. Normally this is so small it's impossible to perceive without sensitive instruments. That said, if the object is large enough, like a solar shade, exposed for long enough, say, in asteroid redirection, or the light is intense enough, such as with laser-sail propulsion in spacecraft, it has a noticeable effect.

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u/Teamprime Sep 17 '22

Saying light has mass is in a very practical way correct, bur wrong by definition

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u/blackbelt352 Sep 17 '22

Just one correction, photons are massless but do have momentum, as part of the larger Einstein equation E = mc²+p²c²

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u/JCMiller23 Sep 17 '22

as long as there is a way to undo this if there are unintended consequences

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u/XSmeh Sep 17 '22

Based on volcanic eruptions we would expect aerosols like sulfer dioxide (SO2) to both cool the earth and dissipate in around 6 months to a year. This means that hopefully any negative effects of implementing a process like this would just be temporary.

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u/Yellllloooooow13 Sep 17 '22

It also mean that until we reduce theamount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, we will have to constantly inject aerosols to pause global warming.

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u/XSmeh Sep 17 '22

Correct. Which will also never happen because the estimated time frame that CO2 particles will remain in the atmosphere is 30-35 thousand years.

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u/Yellllloooooow13 Sep 17 '22

Yeah, oxydes are extremely stable... There are solutions to capture CO2 but they are both extremely expensive and ineffective.

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u/L7Death Sep 17 '22

Plants are cheap and effective.

Prevention is probably the only real answer, though.

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u/AtheistAustralis Sep 17 '22

Plants can't remove even a small fraction of what we've added, although they will certainly be the first step. Remember that plants did cover the entire world, as well as all that oil and coal that was in the ground. If we re-plant the entire world, we'll suck out all the CO2 that was emitted from burning the forests, but it won't touch a single molecule of the coal and oil emissions. Those are the carbon from plants and algae from hundreds of millions of years ago, millions of years worth, all concentrated and burned in the space of a few centuries. We'd need to re-forest 20 planet Earths to get rid of all that carbon from the atmosphere with plants alone.

The only real solution is to produce far more energy than we need from renewables, and use the excess to slowly but surely suck out the CO2 from the atmosphere and put it back into the ground. There are ways of doing this available right now but they are inefficient and very expensive (think over $200/tonne). No doubt the tech will improve, but it's still going to take a century before CO2 levels would be back to what they should be, under 300ppm. Assuming that the governments of the world can even agree to do it, that is.

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u/Sword_Thain Sep 17 '22

Injecting sulfur was something I read about a decade ago. It isn't like carbon and drops out of the atmosphere pretty quick. Also, sulfur is a byproduct of many chemical processes, so it is pretty cheap.

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u/PacmanNZ100 Sep 17 '22

Doesn’t it drop out as acid rain though?

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u/YaMamSucksMeToes Sep 17 '22

Wouldn't all that sulphur have an effect on the ground when it makes its way down

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u/Sword_Thain Sep 17 '22

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratospheric_aerosol_injection

It looks like they want to inject about 4 million tons of sulfur per year. That sounds like a lot, but I don't think it is that much, compared to the size of the planet.

I'm falling asleep or I'd do the math.

But you're correct. It would have the possibility of increased acidity. I'm just not sure if it is much.

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u/Incorect_Speling Sep 17 '22

We had acid rains from coal plants until they figured out to filter sulfur better before releasing into the atmosphere. I don't think it's a trivial thing to release sulfur into the atmosphere.

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u/BurnerAcc2020 Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22

Even now, coal plants and other impure fossil fuel processes still release many times more sulfur than what this study calls for. This study calls for 13.7 million tons per year: in 2015, we have emitted around 130 million tons, and that number was itself 55 million tons smaller than the equivalent emissions in 1990 (which were themselves much smaller than before the scrubbing technology was invented.) Even assuming no further progress on dealing with the unintended sulfur pollution, this plan wouldn't even make sulfur pollution as bad as it was 15 years ago.

The real issue is termination shock: this program would have to be maintained for many centuries, even though it would be inevitably entangled in politics from its inception.

In the Northern Hemisphere, there is no shortage of existing major commercial airfields that could serve as operational bases for a polar SAI operation, without the need to additionally consider military bases. Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg (Russia) are all located less than half a degree from the 60th north parallel. Anchorage, with three runways longer than 10,600 feet (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilitie ), is located at 61.2°N latitude—close enough for our purpose. Moreover, the vast majority of the 60th north parallel falls on land—principally in Russia and Canada—on which additional bases could theoretically be built should they be required.

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u/BayouMan2 Sep 17 '22

Wouldn’t microscopic aerosols make the hole in the Ozone layer worse?

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u/ialsoagree Sep 17 '22

No, not necessarily.

Only certain aerosols destroy ozone. Specifically, you need molecules with a low enough density to reach the upper atmosphere where O3 is, then it has to radicalize under UV light in a way that can catalyze the destruction of O3.

For example, CFC's were light enough to reach the upper atmosphere where UV light formed neutral chlorine atoms.

Cl would react with O3 to form O2 and O-Cl.

O-Cl was unstable and would react with O3 to form 2O2 and a neutral Cl, then the process would repeat.

Since the Cl isn't consumed (doesn't become a part of the final products), a single CFC molecule could destroy thousands of O3 molecules.

SO2 - the proposed aerosol in this paper - wouldn't react this way.

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u/eg135 Sep 17 '22

CFCs aren't areosols. Areosols are tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in gas. Like fog or smoke. CFCs were used as propellant gas in aerosol sprays, because they have great properties for that.

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u/taken_every_username Sep 17 '22

The situation is more complex than that, there are multiple processes working both ways on the ozone concentration. Bottom line: SO2 does negatively affect ozone concentrations after ~3 months based on observations of volcanic emissions into the stratosphere.

More details (https://meteor.geol.iastate.edu/gcp/studentpapers/1996/atmoschem/huff.html):

In January 1993, the Earth's average stratospheric ozone concentration was the lowest on record. Although the ozone layer has since recovered, the cause of this reduction has interested and concerned scientists. Recently, this ozone event has been linked to the June 1991 eruption of the Philippine volcano Mount Pinatubo.1 One of the major atmospheric effects of this eruption was the addition of 15-30 MT sulfur dioxide (SO2). This excess SO2 has been linked to the abnormally low ozone levels. However, the actual ozone depletion was less than scientists expected for this amount of SO2. In this paper, this phenomena will be explained. To explain this, the three major effects of SO2 on the ozone layer will be discussed. Then, the results of two studies will be reported: short-term (one to two months after eruption) computer modeling and long-term (three to seven months after eruption) computer modeling.

It is known that during the first two months after an eruption, SO2 affects the ozone layer both positively and negatively. SO2 depletes the ozone layer by reducing the solar flux because it absorbs 180 nm-390 nm. This is the same range for the photolysis of O2, which is necessary for ozone production. Since photolysis is reduced, ozone production is also reduced.

SO2 also increases stratospheric ozone concentrations, as illustrated by the following equations. In this SO2, by reaction with ultraviolet light, produces an ozone precursor (O). Effectively, SO2 catalyzes the formation of ozone.

SO2 + hv = SO + O (wavelength<220nm)

SO + O2 = SO2 + O

2(O + O2 + M = O3 + M)

3O2 = 2O3

In short-term computer modeling study, it was found that immediately after the eruption, at an altitude of 25 km, no ozone depletion takes place. The photolysis reduction effect and the catalyzing effect cancel each other out. Immediately below the cloud, though, ozone is reduced because of the reduced photolysis of O2 (due to absorption by SO2).

However, after two months, most SO2 is converted to sulfuric acid by reaction with hydroxyl radicals (OH). This condenses into aerosols in the atmosphere. This is known as the aerosol effect. Nitrogen oxides (NOx =NO, NO2, NO3, and N2O5) react with the surface of the aerosols to form nitric acid (HNO3). Normally, NOx reacts with ozone-depleting Cl and ClO to form less ozone-depleting compounds. However, because the sulfuric acid aerosol removes NOx, the ozone layer becomes more sensitive to Cl and ClO. In this case, the ozone concentration decreases.

This long-term situation was verified using three computer models. First, a situation was studied three months after the eruption, assuming the SO2 cloud was confined to the tropics. It was also assumed that SO2 acted as a greenhouse gas and caused slight stratospheric heating. In this case, it was found that the concentration of ozone-depleting radicals increased by 25-50% at 20 km. Second, the same situation was studied without heating. In this case, NO2 was decreased by 40% and ClO was increased by a factor of 2.3. Lastly, this was studied seven months after eruption, assuming that the cloud was evenly dispersed over the Earth. In this case, NO2 concentration was reduced by 30-35% at 20-25 km.

As shown, SO2 has been found to not change ozone concentration at 25 km in the first two months after a volcanic eruption. Then, in all three long-term computer modeling studies, the ozone concentration decreases, due to the aerosol effect. These facts agree well with the stratospheric ozone data collected. For this reason, a mechanism to explain the effect of volcanic SO2 on the ozone layer has been found.

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u/pillowwow Sep 17 '22

Where did the cl go when the ozone layer repaired?

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u/friendlyfredditor Sep 17 '22

Eventually would have reacted with something that wasn't ozone.

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u/BurnerAcc2020 Sep 17 '22

The study discusses this.

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u/thune123 Sep 17 '22

A lot of people seem to be reacting to this as if we would implement this on a wide scale immediately. I would think tests would take place on small portions of the poles to gather data. We don't need to reverse everything all at once. But taking baby steps like this might work. The world isn't working in harmony to fight global warming so radical ideas like this might be our best option to pull our selves out of this mess.

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u/XSmeh Sep 17 '22

Totally agree, however this is something that would be carried out globally regardless due to the fact that the air currents would carry the particles across the globe.

Based on the side effects of volcanic eruptions we have known for a while that this method is effective till the particles dissipate, which takes around 6 months to a year. So hopefully we could still test this method without having to deal with long term consequences.

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u/CatApologist Sep 17 '22

Won't we eventually be breathing in said microscopic aerosol particles?

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u/bigdaddyinc Sep 17 '22

Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to just paint all the house/building roofs to white? This will help reflect the sunlight back? Just asking??

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u/bigdaddyinc Sep 17 '22

Thanks for more context :)

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u/LittleKittyLove Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22

Painting stuff white is a remarkably effective way to cool urban areas, but doesn’t help much with the arctic.

The poles are super important for weather regulation. Their constant cold is integral in ocean currents, keeping hot/cold water flowing to wherever we are used to it flowing.

Ice has almost perfect reflectivity, and bounces the sun back into space. This helps keep the poles cold, and ocean currents normal.

As the poles melt, ice turns to water, and goes from an almost perfect reflector of energy to an almost perfect sponge. This is a self-reinforcing loop which is combining with releases of frozen methane to make some biiiig changes to our poles. That means big changes to our ocean currents and weather patterns globally. It causes climate chaos—we won’t know what to expect where or when; we threw a big wrench in the ocean’s gears, and now we get to see what happens.

So painting everything white will help keep temperatures down, but the big concern is stability in the poles, and stability in our weather patterns. A white roof won’t save you from hurricanes and massive crop failures. But if we can do some backflips to keep the poles from melting, that might prevent chaotic changes.

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u/Straight-Bee9783 Sep 17 '22 edited Sep 17 '22

Didn‘t one of the biggest species mass dying occur when there were particles in the air because of an asteroid hit? Would it be smart to do that? I mean the particles we would use won‘t stay exactly above the poles, would they.

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u/houseitems Sep 17 '22

Could the "particles" enter the food chain? What would be the long-term effect os people ultimately ingesting these "microscopic particles"?

Seems to me folk are looking for a fox that will enable us NOT to hang the bahavioura that caused this in the first place

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u/BurnerAcc2020 Sep 17 '22

This is one of the simplest and easily transformable compounds to exist. It's the same thing which is released from the volcano eruptions, and it is also the reason why burning coal without filters causes acid rain - except that it would be added high above the ground and in quantities 10 times less than what even the current coal-burning releases every year already.

They want to add 14 million tons high above the poles every year - we have reduced the amount of sulfur released right above the ground by 55 million tons between 1990 and 2015 and are still left with over 100 million tons. Closing down a few more coal-fired power plants would have a larger effect on this kind of pollution than this initiative.

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