Dimming the sun: Boon or bane?

Cataclysmic coolant The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo – the second-largest volcanic eruption of this century – caused global temperatures to drop temporarily from 1991 through 1993 by about 0.5°C. AFP

Renowned scientists and visionaries are mulling the idea of copying the effects of a massive volcanic eruption to block the sun’s rays and combat global warming.

As part of a £2.3million ($3million) experiment partly-funded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, a team from Harvard University will spray tiny chalk particles into the atmosphere 12 miles above the Earth to reflect some of the sun’s rays back into space.

They hope this will have a similar effect to an erupting volcano releasing sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere just like in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines — releasing 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide which cooled the planet by 0.5C for 18 months.

The project — called the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) — is part of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program.

While most studies looking at the effects of spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to cool the planet rely on computer simulations to test their hypotheses, SCoPEx will conduct its testing in the real world.

According to the report, the goal is to reduce the worst effects of climate change in the hope that this could save coral reefs and polar ice sheets and the team hopes to launch a steerable balloon over the southwest United States before next July.

It will release jets of calcium carbonate: Chalk dust.

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