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THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS—A last-ditch remedy for a climate disaster might be waiting in your kitchen. If efforts to control greenhouse gases fail, finely powdered salt spread through the upper atmosphere could hold off the sun's rays and cool the planet, researchers reported here today at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The approach could be more benign than other schemes for putting a temporary hold on climate change.
For several decades, scientists have suggested ways to “geoengineer” the climate. Several proposals call for injecting microscopic particles, called aerosols, into the stratosphere, the quiet region of the atmosphere above the troposphere about 18 kilometers up from the equator. There they reflect sunlight back into space, mimicking the influence of large volcanic eruptions that have temporarily cooled the planet in the past.
Proposals - Sulfates - Particles - Stratosphere - Dioxide
Such proposals often involve sulfates, particles that form in the stratosphere from sulfur dioxide ejected by volcanoes, or other molecules with high reflectivity, such as diamond dust or alumina (aluminum oxide). But all these approaches have drawbacks, says Robert Nelson, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute who is based in Pasadena, California. Sulfur dioxide, for example, could eat away at the ozone layer or cause acid rain.
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Alumina could be even worse, Nelson says. Although it is extremely reflective, it could embed in the lungs if inhaled and cause chronic disease similar to silicosis. “I was raised in Pittsburgh, [Pennsylvania,] and I remember as a child seeing black lung victims struggling to get down the street.” Still, given the limited amount of alumina that could be required, it’s far from certain such a health risk would be a genuine concern.
So Nelson continued to look...
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