Potential Global Warming “Fix” Will Damage the Ozone Layer

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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There are many possible “geo-engineering” solutions open to scientists in the aim to stave off global warming. One of the main candidates to dim the solar energy input to the atmosphere is to inject huge quantities of sulphate particles high in the atmosphere. This mimics the emissions from a large volcanic explosion proven to cool the Earth’s atmosphere in the past. But, you guessed it, there’s a problem. New research suggests that tampering with the atmosphere in this way will have serious repercussions for the ozone layer… Now there’s a surprise!

On writing this week’s Carnival of Space, I came across an interesting discussion about the damage that can be caused by scientists tampering with weather. Nancy L. Young-Houser takes the strong view that under no circumstance is it OK to alter natural weather processes, even if the purpose is to advert a catastrophic hurricane or bring rain to drought-ridden regions. Looking at historic examples of cloud seeding for example, Nancy concludes that weather manipulation is not only morally but ethically wrong. There will always be a loser.

Ash plume of Pinatubo during 1991 eruption (USGS)

Then today, the BBC ran an article on the perils of using high altitude particles to block sunlight from entering our atmosphere. The effect of such a large-scale measure could emulate the ejected particles from a huge volcanic explosion. Sulphide particles are known to be a highly efficient means to deflect sunlight, thus cooling our atmosphere, possibly saving us from the ravages of our self-inflicted global warming. (This effect was observed in the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, pictured.) But there is a big flaw in this plan according to new research published in Science. Sulphide particles can damage the ozone layer, possibly creating another hole in the ozone over the Arctic and undo the recovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, setting it back decades.

Dr Simone Tilmes of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCar) in Boulder, Colorado, and her team analysed data and ran simulations of the sulphide effect on the atmosphere. Their conclusion? Injecting sulphide particles into the high atmosphere may lessen the effects of global warming, but it will also set back Antarctic ozone layer recovery 30 to 70 years. Sulphates are ideal particles on which atmospheric chlorine gases held in polar clouds will attach themselves to (pictured top). A chemical reaction between sulphate particle and chlorine destroys ozone molecules (O3). The effects of this chemical reaction may cause accelerated damage in troubled polar regions. This ozone depletion was also recorded after the Mount Pinatubo eruption.

Attempting to “repair” the global damage we are causing to the atmosphere by injecting even more particles at high altitudes may not be the best way forward. After all, as outlined in Nancy’s article, there are many hidden risks when geo-engineering our atmospheric dynamics. Perhaps working on the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions may be a better idea, sooner rather than later.

Source: BBC


39 Responses

  1. China has a plan to stop any rain that might put a damper on the Olympic games by shooting rockets with particulates into rainclouds outside of the city to make the rain precipitate.

  2. Joe C. says:

    Maybe trying to fix global warming isn’t such a good idea after all, if the next ice age may be just around the corner, as is speculated in this article:

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23583376-7583,00.html

  3. Al Hall says:

    Hey! That’s a great idea!!… Oh, wait…. What will happen when the next big volcano blows? An ice age, I suppose. ;-O

  4. Mike says:

    Wouldn’t this affect plant growth? Plants in rain forests already have to compete for sunlight. Upsetting this balance might speed up global warming by reducing CO2 absorbtion.

  5. Andy C says:

    At least these possibilities are being investigated. It is important that we continue to review geo-engineering possibilities to establish which, if any of them, might help with the minimum level of risk in the event that we run out of alternative options. I haven’t read the specifics of this latest article yet, but it will be interesting to see exactly what they are ruling out here, because I have read previous articles which propose approaches that might avoid the ozone problem (though they are technically very challenging). I shall read with interest.

  6. dmedici says:

    Since Global Warming is nothing more than a scheme to transfer wealth organized by eco-hypocrites, there’s no fix needed. So… let’s get back to the astronomy!

  7. oma1 says:

    There are just WAAAAY too many variables to accurately predict the results of this kind of global climate engineering.

    I mean, the swirls of cream in a cup of hot coffee defy prediction by mathematical models. And they’re considering precision engineering of the climate. Yikes!

  8. Andy C says:

    > And they’re considering precision engineering of the climate. Yikes!

    Indeed. This is why it is so important that we research these options carefully; the geoengineering ‘solutions’ are being considered in the event that we fail to get control of our carbon emissions (and so far we are failing – in fact, the recent rate of increase in emissions actually exceeds the worst case projections from just a few years back).

    Having read through the article in Science now, it does at least appear that this is with reference to injecting sulphates into the stratosphere, and not the mesosphere (which is the alternative I mention in my first post), so it looks like the sulphate option is still open for now (though the mesosphere option will no doubt have its own problems).

  9. Jim Baerg says:

    One of the most benign sounding suggestions for ‘geoengineering’, is to pave the roads etc with something light colored rather than black asphalt to reflect sunlight into space. ( about halfway down the page at this link http://www.reason.com/news/show/30433.html )

    That plus making roofs light colored would have the advantage of reducing the energy needed for air conditioning in hot climates since it would reduce or eliminate the urban heat island effect.

  10. Cynthia says:

    No organization in their right mind would risk doing anything as drastic as this lest they incur the wrath of herds of lawyers. Even if it would reduce the so-called global warming any other side effect would be litigated ad nauseum. Really, it’s a silly thing to contemplate. Might as well use giant mylar reflectors in space instead if you’re really serious about screwing things up.

  11. Yael Dragwyla says:

    So we all just sit here, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for somebody else to solve a potentially catastrophic problem, because we’re afraid of lawyers and can’t establish a hierarchy of needs? If so, eventually it will come down to political “solutions” such as killing off or sterilizing 99% of humanity to destroy the problem at its source — and finding that doesn’t help, either, because the damage is already irreversible and the planet is wrecked. This is absolutely ridiculous. If nothing else, a one-year test of the “sulfate solution,” during which sulfates are injected into the atmosphere at latitudes ranging from 20 degrees North to 20 degrees South, to see whether that does harm to the ozone layer, could be carried out. That belt receives more sunlight, more consistently, than any other on Earth, and is far from the poles. So why not try the test and see what happens? If the negative side-effects outweigh any good results, then don’t use that, and try something else out. A one-year test shouldn’t do much harm — and, by the way, that “test” is actually being carried out now, by China, whose industrial cities are generating some of the worst pollution on the planet. There’s a fierce La Nina condition in the Pacific right now — temperatures for March and April this year here in Seattle, where I live, have been the colest on record. We had snow last weekend, and snow at the end of March, unprecedented events. Chalk that up to all the sulfur in the pollution rolling across the globe out of China. Are atmospheric ozone levels at either pole not what they should be, thanks to those emissions? If not, maybe we ought to try out that equatorial belt test . . .

  12. Timber says:

    Be assured that no matter what solution scientists might conger up the decision will be made by politicians and beaurocrats which means it will be political and certainly wrong

  13. David says:

    Yes.. let’s pollute the atmosphere even more than it is… fight fire with fire?

  14. Andy C says:

    @Yael Dragwyla

    I certainly agree with your broad point that doing nothing is a bad idea (though I don’t agree that we should dive into conducting tests).

    > [inject] into the atmosphere at latitudes ranging
    > from 20 degrees North to 20 degrees South
    > That belt receives more sunlight, more consistently,
    > than any other on Earth, and is far from the poles.

    It’s worth noting that this intervention is actually much more likely to be conducted at the poles, away from densely populated areas, and in a region where any intervention is likely to produce the largest result for the smallest intervention.

    > [Temperatures] in Seattle, where I live, have
    > been the colest on record. Chalk that up to all
    > the sulfur in the pollution rolling across the
    > globe out of China.

    I think that is jumping to conclusions, the La Nina is a much more obvious explanation, particularly in light of the fact that globally, March (no data for April yet of course) had record high land temperatures.

  15. marcellus says:

    I don’t think that nukes would work on Venus. At least not right away.

    First you’d have to go into orbit around Venus, and build a space station for the terraforming crews to live.

    Then you’d use nontechnology to start building a thin web that would grow big enough to block sunlight to the planet. Once the atmosphere cools and the carbon dioxide frosts out, land on the planet, and drill hundreds of holes deep into the crust at
    steep angles.

    That’s when we use the entire nuclear arsenal of Earth to donate them “en echelon” and start Venus’ spin rotation. It’s molten core would then generate a magnetic field to protect it against the solar wind.

    Then next step is to bombard it with comets, and get the water and the oceans going. Bring in some bacteria, and algae to generate some good old nitrogen and oxygen, plant trees to beat hell, open a resort and watch the money roll in.

    No problem.

  16. marcellus says:

    I meant “nanotechnology”.

  17. sp says:

    If you wanted to cool the planet off, setting off a few nukes would do the trick very cheaply sort of a deliberate nuclear winter. Its definately a measure of last resort. I Wonder if that could work on Venus.

  18. Chuck Lam says:

    Cynthia and Timber are right on!

  19. Mr. LAME says:

    i cant contain the irony XD

  20. stuntcock says:

    since when does serious astronomy buy into the political socialist scam of global warming. the only thing that warms the planets, notice i wrote that in plural form, is only one thing….cue brian regan clip….the big yellow one is da sun. the planets, plural again, have all warmed and cooled at the same rates that follow the solar activity of the sun. the warmest RECENT year on record was 1998, and apparently the sky is falling loonies are worried we gain a whole degree in the past 100 years. last year 2007 we lost .65 degrees and we have been in a cooling trend since 1998 and we have lost that whole 1 degree in the past 10 years. so where’s the worry? global warming is a lie.
    the socialists use global warming because nobody is dumb enough to accept socialism on it’s own merits so the socialists are using scare tactics and spook stories to try and frighten people into anti capitalist and a constitutional free society.
    if this site continues to push this ridiculous lie then i might as well get my astronomy news from art bell or george noory.

  21. Ken B. says:

    Well, I really have to write to say I agree with dmedici and stuntcock. What really concerns me is that some global warming nutjob will come up with a nutty idea such as this and carry it out and create a REAL environmental problem. Come on people this global warming is a huge scam by the politicians to suck more taxes out of us. Not to mention the all the socialists behind it as well. One just has to look at ALL the science on the issue.

  22. Andy C says:

    > The warmest RECENT year on record was 1998

    Actually it was 2005, with a combined land and ocean temperature anomaly of +0.6045 degrees versus 1998’s 0.5764 degrees (the anomaly being defined as the departure from the 1901-2000 average).

    > last year 2007 we lost .65 degrees and we have
    > been in a cooling trend since 1998 and we have
    > lost that whole 1 degree in the past 10 years

    The 2007 combined anomaly was +0.5496, whilst 2006 was +0.5396. The fact that the anomaly for 2007 is 0.03 degrees less (not 1 degree – I suspect you are mistaking the temperature comparison for the month of January only) than the anomaly for 1998 is not indicative of a cooling trend. By such an analysis global warming has ‘stopped’ 4 times since 1980, and yet the last 7 years all feature in the top 10 warmest years during that same period.

    Global warming is not a lie, download the temperature data for yourself:

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/anomalies/anomalies.html

    Plot charts of this data, take rolling 5 year (for example) averages of the data and you will see that it is very difficult to make a case that the world is not warming.

  23. Jimmy C says:

    @dmedici

    Ignorance must be bliss?

    I really hope you don’t think Global Warming is a “scheme”.. If you just opened your eyes you would see the truth =)..

  24. marcellus says:

    You can pick and choose amongst all the data that you like , but here in Minnesota we had the first real “Old Fashioned” winter we’ve experienced since 1987.

    Global warming is a blatant LIE and Al Gore can come and shovel my snow.

  25. Andy C says:

    > You can pick and choose amongst all the data that you like

    Yes, apparently you can marcellus. The data I quoted contains land, ocean, and combined temperatures for the entire world for the last ~130 years… Minnesota is not the world, and one season in isolation is not indicative of anything (either warming or cooling).

  26. Ian O'Neill says:

    Until someone comes forward with evidence to the contrary (by evidence I mean published, peer reviewed papers, that have not been debunked), I for one will believe we are the root cause for modern-day global warming. As yet, the only reputable evidence is pointing to human emissions. It is, i’m afraid, true.

    There is however a lot of money to be made by governments and companies, selling “carbon credits” and passing “green taxes” – where there is a problem, there’s a profit to be made. Just because we have the likes of Al Gore and other public figures putting the word out doesn’t make this any less real.

    Ian

    PS. Just because your town had a chilly winter does not tell me global warming is fake. In fact, global warming will radically change local weather systems (hot or cold) – perhaps marcellus has just informed us of a radically changed weather system over Minnesota…
    PPS. And as a solar physicist I will say that although the Sun drives our atmosphere, the solar variability doesn’t match the measured atmospheric warming trend.

  27. stuntcock says:

    seems like andy c is picking and choosing because 2005 was not the warmest year. the planet has been in a cooling trend since 1998, coinciding with the waning solar activity.

    tell me andy c since you have all the wrong answers, why is it that the other planets are experiencing global temp fluctuations that mirror earths. how is it that capitalism is affect mercury venus, mars, jupiter, saturn, uranus, and neptune.

    just so you know, the sun causes global warming. the earth can react and enact minor changes of it’s own but the simple fact is the the political scam of global warming is a lie and the real scientific facts back it up, not al gores movie.

    al gore didn’t invent the internet, but he did make up global warming.

  28. Andy C says:

    @stuntcock

    Well, I provided a link to the NOAA data I was referring to, would you care to share your data sources with the rest of us?

    ‘Global temperature fluctuations that mirror earths’ – First, please define what you mean by ‘mirror’, as with Neptune’s 165 year orbit I am struggling to interpret what that could possibly mean. Second, your sources please (for all of the planets by the way).

    Strangely enough, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that the Sun is Earth’s external energy source, yet Venus has a mean surface temperature of around 462 degrees Celsius, whilst Mercury never gets that hot… I wonder what could possibly cause the more distant planet to have a higher temperature?

    Incidentally, the last solar maximum was in 2001, so I’m afraid 1998 did not coincide with the waning of solar activity.

    (p.s. I make my living in the financial markets, so please dispense with the pointless capitalism rhetoric).

  29. eldakka says:

    andy c wrote:

    The data I quoted contains land, ocean, and combined temperatures for the entire world for the last ~130 years

    I call shenanigans!

    There is no way that there are accurate temperature readings for the ENTIRE WORLD for the last 130 years.

    Even 50 years ago there were vast regions of the world that lacked the technology, let alone the motivation or political/economic stability, to take accurate, repeateable, measurements of temperature on land, let alone at altitude or oceanic depths.

    see http://www.topix.com/forum/news/global-warming/THFDHC3D0UU2PEMTE

    for an example of how unreliable supposedly reliable temperature data can be.

    At BEST, we have ROUGH estimates of the world temperature for the last 130 years.

  30. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    In all honesty, does anybody know what the climate could have been like about 500,000 years ago when the carbon content in the atmosphere was 10 times what it is now? i read that statistic a few weeks back and I’ve forgotten where I saw it. Is there any truth to that and if so, wouldn’t the global average temperature have been extremely high?

  31. Andy C says:

    @Eric Near Buffalo

    I wonder if you meant to say 500 million, rather than 500 thousand? In the last 500 thousand years CO2 concentrations never got above 300ppm (as shown by the 800,000 year ice core record) until the last century or so, when human CO2 emissions (they can be traced due to differences in the carbon isotopes produced when burning fossil fuels) have driven the level up to around 385ppm.

    In the distant past atmospheric carbon content and temperatures have certainly been significantly higher than now (this is completely uncontentious within mainstream climate science), but humans have never had to contend with atmospheric CO2 as high as it is now.

  32. Rusty says:

    Oh great. We start with, at the very least, questionable, unproven science, propose to collect billions of $$ in various “green” taxes to fund questionable, unproven science programs to try to alter the earth’s atmosphere.
    Before he was slapped up-side the head (again) for not getting with the program, NASA’s Michael Griffin dared to ask the question:

    ” I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”

    So do I, this is absolute madness…

  33. Yael Dragwyla says:

    Actually, the way to avoid the lawyers is to test that unintended experiment in sulfurizing the atmosphere that Chinese industrym which burns huge amounts of coal for fuel, is currently carrying out on ozone levels over the poles by simply examining how ozone levels have fluctuated at the poles since those vast outputs of sulfur have been coming out of China in the last couple of decades, subtracting the effects of other sources of damage to polar ozone levels during that period of time, and looking at what remains. China is in the northern temperate and subarctic zones, and that should be a good test of what effects the deliberate injection of additional sulfur into the atmosphere would have on polar ozone levels. If the lawyers want to sue, point them at China, and wish them good luck — I don’t foresee them getting any headway with a suit against Chinese industry any time soon!

  34. Yael Dragwyla says:

    One other thing that nobody seems to have tried concerning global warming, one which would have a beneficial impact on many things at once, is injection of cleaned-up wastewater into soils that have been severely depleted of water due to human needs for irrigation, industry, and personal use. The city of Los Angeles, California has long been cleaning its wastewater using processes so effective that you could safely drink the purified water (though nobody wants to). They use their purified water for such things as ornamental fountains and local industry, but even so, much of it is wasted. The solid matter in the raw sewage is strained out beforehand, and goes to make fertilizer at the Bandini plant in downtown Los Angeles, as well, so nothing is wasted except “excess” cleaned-up wastewater. Okay, use the excess to restore depleted groundwater levels in every area that is at high risk for violent, large wildfires by either injecting it into the soil or dropping it onto wildlands or by running it up to the top of hills and mountains via pipes, which then discharge their burden of water to roll downhill and be absorbed by the soil. The organisms living in and on the soil prosper because of it. The areas where this takes place are cooled down as plants transpire water up from below and into the air — a natural area air-conditioner. Wildfires are considerably slowed down as they hit moistened soils, and it’s much easier for firefighters to knock those fires down than fires in parched areas. No, this won’t by itself end global warming, but it will really help in areas that are becoming increasingly arid and hot and at serious risk for fire. Just ask any firefighter who had to fight the great firestorms of 2007 in Southern California. Before 1950, groundwater levels the world over were not significantly depleted, though there were some exceptions. Today, water is becoming evermore valuable, because for years so much wastewater has been dumped in the ocean or continental watercourses, fouling the waters with huge burdens of organic materials and causing serious eutrophication there. But if cleaned wastewater is returned to the land from which it was removed by wells and the like, acute shortages of water can be headed off wherever it is used to restore groundwater levels; fire danger can be significantly lowered; and local climate will become much more bearable, especially in Summer, as plants transpire groundwater into the air over a wide area.

  35. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    While we’re on the water subject, in areas where water has been depleting, why aren’t we looking at desalination? If we can build large pipelines that supply oil why can’t we do the same for clean fresh desalinated water? I’m not adept with the process, it’s capabilities and cost effectiveness – I would hope it’s been considered, but you don’t hear anything about it. Is it just too much work and too expensive?

  36. Bill says:

    One thing we know for sure, any solution that is not the opposite of the destruction of the “widely held theory of cause” is doomed to political oblivan. For example, enviornmentalist claim global warming is caused by the burning of fuels so any solution that does not reduce the burning of fuels is rejected. This, of course, is the work of fools as nearly every useful solution is not a change in the cause.

  37. Global Warming says:

    Here is a funny article on the media ‘consensus’ on glabal warming.

    http://penshorn.com/2008/05/26/media-consensus–earth-is-doomed.aspx

  38. Afrojames says:

    The Real SOLUTION to all this mess is to get the WORLD to understand that we need to stop polluting! I’m a artist and just 4 days ago, I began to understand the importance of Science. But yeah… We HUMAN BEINGS are just destroying the Earth!!! And WAR (weapons), Car (gas), etc. is all from our own cause.

    What if this theory is true, that I think if Ozone layer is gone, maybe the whole Earth will stop spinning and that will just be a big problem for everyone, becos we will just eventually die. One side of the earth will be HOT and the other side will be cold.

    And I also believe in Creation. This Universe as you all know is not that simple. If the creator creates something, the Creator won’t just create life on Earth, I bet ya that the other life-form from another planet is laughing at us EARTHLINGs now and say “look at those fools destroying themselves”

    And to say there is no creation is like an old foolish person thinking.

    Everything we have is created. In order to create life, you need a sperm and egg. In order to create a table, you first need to grow a tree and cut it and saw it. And in order to create a space ship, you still need to first find the materials and that is from the natural resources that the CREATOR given up. THINK, all the natural resources in this world is all USEFUL! NOTHING is wasted… Tree is air for us to breath!

    So just imagine, that YOU are the Creator, would you only create Earth with life in it? And would you leave rest of the planet in this Universe lifeless? How uncreative would that be!

    God Bless You All!

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