Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chicheley Hall Conference Debates Fate of the Planet

Within Chicheley Hall in England, a gathering of scientists and scholars of the earth, law, politics, and philosophy assembled to brood over the fate of the Earth as the threat of global warming continues to become a reality. Among their discussions, they contemplated the opportunity to interfere with nature itself in order to save the planet. The undetermined risks of altering the Earth’s climate through geoengineering caused apprehension for many. When faced with the disturbing consequences of global warming, however, the possibility of utilizing this technology becomes a necessary debate. If climate engineering options aren't researched now, then climatologists believe that the world will have bleak options in an emergency.

The urgency of undertaking such research as a backup plan occurred because past initiatives to agree on contracts concerning carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions among nations has failed. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is foreseen that temperatures will rise as much as 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Not only will this radical shift cause seas to swell, but climate patterns that nurture human civilization will be disrupted.

Atmospheric scientists are troubled about the existence of global warming in the Arctic because that is a region where its devastating effects would initially be felt. This winter, the U.N. weather agency recorded an unprecedented thinning of the protective ozone layer in the Arctic by 40 percent. Officials at the U.N. report that these losses were detected through satellite observations and weather balloons that demonstrate the ozone loss at various altitudes. This winter's increase in the loss severely exceeded the previous seasonal loss of 30 percent in the Arctic’s fragile atmospheric layers.

The stratospheric ozone layer is the Earth’s protection from ultraviolet radiation in the sun, but it is becoming increasingly damaged. Ozone-devouring compounds that are found in air pollutants such as CFCs from aerosol sprays and refrigeration are chemically triggered by the cold temperatures and sunlight. Ozone loss occurs in polar regions because the temperatures drop below -108 F and iridescent clouds form. The sunlight on these icy surfaces activates the reactions in chlorine and bromine that come from air pollutants directly linked to human activities. As a result, "When sunlight returns, it all comes together to trigger significant thinning of the ozone,” explains Bryan Johnson, atmospheric chemist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Laboratory.

Although ozone naturally regenerates itself, a downward trend of the atmospheric ozone layer could be seen in the years to come. The conference at Chicheley Hall debated these sensitive questions concerning the destiny of the planet.

Some solutions that were proposed included the painting of rooftops white to reflect the sun's heat, blanketing deserts with reflective materials, launching giant mirrors into space, fertilizing the ocean with iron to grow CO2 plankton, and brightening marine clouds with sea-salt particles to reflect the sun. It is unfortunate that the world's leading scientists and thinkers are obliged to consider radical research to save the planet from the growing epidemic of the absence in personal accountability.

Within the conference, however, only one solution emerged as a leading contender. It was agreed that stratospheric aerosol particles proved to be the idea with the most potential. The particles would be sun-reflecting sulfates emitted into the lower stratosphere from various aircraft. This technique, however, would have to be accompanied by reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention a carbon dioxide removal process. Otherwise, the stratospheric sulfate layer would need to be built indefinitely to counter the accumulating carbon dioxide on Earth. The downsides to this solution include the possibility that temperatures would increase if the operation was shut down, along with the fact that the sulfates themselves would likely damage the ozone layer that currently protect the Earth from ultraviolet rays. Unfortunately, they don't stop atmospheric carbon dioxide from acidifying the oceans and a sudden cooling of the planet would result in unknown shifts in climate patterns. 

While the future of the planet remains uncertain, experts at Chicheley Hall assumed a coalition of capable nations would arise and an independent panel of experts would review the risks of the proposed experiments in the efforts to combat climate change.

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