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A team of British scientists is to build what amounts to an artificial volcano, pumping sulphate particles into the atmosphere.
The aim of the project, based on a disused airfield in a remote corner fo England, is to test whether the geoengineering technique could be used to fight manmade climate change.
It’s part of the SPICE project (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), a collaboration between researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Oxford, together with Marshall Aerospace.
The idea is that releasing small particles into the stratosphere, which then reflect a small percentage of incoming solar radiation, could cool the Earth relatively quickly.
It would have a similar effect to a large volcanic eruption – such as that of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in June 1991 – which in the two years following cooled the Earth by an average of about half a degree centigrade.
The test involves pumping water to a height of 1km through a suspended hose, held aloft by a helium-filled balloon. This will allow the engineers to study how the hose and balloon behave over time in a variety of weather conditions.
Ultimately, says the team, they want to investigate the feasibility of using this approach to inject particles into the stratosphere at 20km up.
“SPICE is the first UK project aimed at providing some much-needed, evidence-based, knowledge about geoengineering technologies,” says project leader Dr Matt Watson from Bristol University.
“The project itself is not carrying out geoengineering, just investigating the feasibility of doing so.”
A consultation exercise carried out by Cardiff University has found that very few people were comfortable with the idea.
“We hope that by carrying out this research we will start to shed light on some of the uncertainties surrounding this controversial subject, and encourage mature and wide-ranging debate that will help inform any future research and decision-making,” says Watson.