Scientists at The University of Manchester are examining a novel idea for delaying the effects of climate change using a combination of clouds and sea salt.
Atmospheric experts Professor Tom Choularton and Dr. Keith Bower, who are working with a team of leading scientists around the world on the theory, have developed a computer simulation which shows how adding sea salt to clouds can slow global warming.
The idea, conceived by Professor John Latham, an Emeritus Professor at the University, now based at National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, is to use clouds as natural heat shields which when injected with salt reflect more sunlight and therefore protect against the greenhouse effect.
Professor Choularton, said: 'What our simulation shows is that if you artificially inject sea salt into clouds it not only increases the amount of heat which is reflected back into space, creating a cooling effect, but it also inhibits the formation of drizzle, which means the clouds last longer, more heat is reflected, and the cooling effect lasts longer.'
Professor Choularton's principal role is to understand the effect artificially injecting salt will have on the clouds, in particular whether it will cause any adverse effects. This information will then be used to plan small-scale pilot projects to see how the clouds react in the field.
One of the challenges the team faces is how to get salt into the clouds, in particular low level lumpy grey clouds, known as stratocumulus, which are the only type of clouds which will produce this cooling effect.
One idea, developed by Professor Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh, is to use high-frequency generators on board yachts to convert sea water into a very fine mist of salt particles which rise up and embed themselves in the clouds.
'If all of this is successful then it may be possible to have an operational system which over a small area of the globe would have the effect of off-setting global warming and reducing global temperature,' says Professor Latham.
'This would not be an ultimate solution to global warming but it would be a way of buying more time if the worst impacts of global warming start to manifest themselves over the next couple of decades,' he added.
The team is now hoping to gain funding to carry out pilot projects designed to test this theory.
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