Scientists at the European Geosciences Union annual conference in Vienna today proposed the idea of using customised engineering for highly specific purposes – such as reversing sea level rise and preventing hurricanes.
The discussions took place in the first ever geoengineering session at an EGU annual assembly, held in recognition of the fact that it just may be time to start considering the need for a climate emergency response system, should our mitigation efforts fail to work…or indeed, fail to kick off.
Although the concept of manually interfering with the Earth’s climate on a large scale has been the subject of much controversy, not least in the pages of Nature, less attention has been given to such bespoke geoengineering to tackle specific potential impacts.
One such idea, put forward by Oliver Wingenter at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, involved enhancing the ocean with sulphur to prevent or reverse sea level rise.
In a proof-of-concept trial in the Southern Ocean, Wingenter and colleagues showed that fertilizing just 2% of the Southern Ocean could prevent net ice loss and reduce thermal expansion in the region enough to slow sea level rise.
Such drastic interventions might by just what’s needed, given research presented here in seperate press conference this morning by Svetlana Jevrejeva of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, which further adds weight to the body of evidence that sea level rise is happening more rapidly than predicted in the IPCC’s latest report. The estimate released today says that it could be as as much as 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) by the end of this century.
Another engineering approach described here today by Stephen Salter at the University of Edinburgh could potentially be used to mitigate hurricanes. Though the idea of weakening hurricanes using technology has been put forward before by people such as Bob Langer at MIT, this design involves spraying tiny submicron drops of sea water into the atmosphere to increase white cloud cover and thereby cool the ocean surface.
Dissipating heat from the ocean surface could lessen the intensity of hurricanes before they reach land, but as with all such conceptual designs, whether the technology would create another suite of unforeseen problems – such as redirecting hurricanes elsewhere – is yet unknown.