Oct 26, 2011Science and Technology
Geoengineering + Innovation = A solution for global warming

If you have no clue what geoengineering is, it is what it sounds like.  Engineering meets geology.  Earth-loving scientists with a love for tinkering.  The result is a large-scale manipulation of environmental processes that affect the Earth’s climate.  The buzz about geoengineering says a potential global warming solution can be found in this field. Is innovation the x-factor that’s missing from the equation? 


Geoengineering, believe it or not, has produced more than one plausible solution for global warming.  Perhaps the most popular concept involves the release of tiny particles into the Earth’s atmosphere.  While still very much theoretical, the science is solid and the method is straightforward, so what’s limiting this science?  Politics?  Lack of investors?  Whatever the reason, a little innovation can go a long way.


Arguably, the most plausible approach to climate intervention was described in a paper written by David Keith and published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science in 2010.  In this paper, he described an aerosol particle which with a shiny aluminum surface which would act as a mirror to deflect hot sun rays from the Earth, thereby cooling the Earth.  Most geoengineering solutions for global warming have focused on sulfate aerosols but Keith’s research turned to nanotechnology to create a more efficient and cost-effective solution. 


The basic solution geoengineers are looking for will not only cool the Earth by scattering sunlight by injecting tiny particles into the atmosphere, but also minimize the risks for greenhouse gases that pose serious environmental and health risks.  To solve problems like these – problems that involve experts across multiple fields – an interdisciplinary approach is what the doctor prescribes. 


The threat of worldwide famine, natural disasters, and the energy crisis are all things we want to avoid.  While some folks think global warming will go away without taking action, others have looked for innovative solutions that cross boundaries and challenge what we know, or think we know, about global warming.


Here are the simple facts about global warming.  Increasing carbon concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere heat up the planet.  Increasing sulfur concentrations have the opposite effect, cooling the planet. The levels of carbon measured from deep sea ice cores, which are used to study historical climate change events, are unprecedented in the history of the Earth.  Simultaneously, the human population has grown, the industrial revolution has happened, and industry continues to develop, adding more carbon into the air we breath with every passing second. 


Since the beginning of our race, humans have put on their Engineer hats to survive.  Modern-day Engineers have used their smarts to bring the world countless products, materials, and processes.  That same level of innovation will bring us a solution to the adverse side effects these developments have had on the environment. 

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