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Earth News Technology

Solar Geoengineering Could Lead To Whiter, Brighter Skies 165

Posted by Soulskill
from the cheaper-than-a-giant-annular-mirror dept.
cylonlover writes "We've heard reports that placing small, reflective particles into the upper atmosphere could actually improve crop yields, but would also significantly reduce the amount of electricity generated by solar power plants and do little to arrest the acidification of the world's oceans. Now another potential side effect has been theorized by Californian researchers, who say that solar geoengineering could lead to brighter, whiter skies, and sunsets with an afterglow (abstract)."
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Solar Geoengineering Could Lead To Whiter, Brighter Skies

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  • Don't you dump the heat on it too, a la Bender in "Godfellas" which set the crops on fire, not to mention increased global warming because how you have a mirror instead of gasses trapping light in?

    • The light's not going on the crops though - it's being sent back out into space. I guess the crop yields improve because the soil is cooler, and retains more moisture and nutrients.
      • by rufty_tufty (888596) on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:14AM (#40180421) Homepage

        RTFA
        Photosynthesis is more effective in diffuse light.

        Easy to imagine that with light coming in from many angles the particles in plant cells that have the chlorophyll are illuminated from more sides therefore more efficient.Also leaves that aren't perfectly lined up with the sun get more light than they otherwise would.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Photosynthesis is more effective in diffuse light.

          Great... "whiter skies." I absolutely HATE a white sky -- you know, when it's cloudy? If they do this there's going to be a hell of a lot more murders and suicides, because folks with clinical depression cheer up a bit when the sky is blue and become more depressed when it's gray ("whiter").

          DO NOT WANT! I know far too many mentally disturbed people. I'd hate to see them get worse.

        • by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:51AM (#40180865) Homepage Journal

          "Photosynthesis is more effective in diffuse light."

          No, it's really not. Chlorophyll has a neat mechanism by which light tends to (usually) work in one direction. You can test this for yourself. Obtain a test tube of chlorophyll in a suspended liquid solution. Take an incandescent light. If you put the test tube directly between you and the light at eye level, you will see it as mostly red. Any other direction, you see it as green.

          Also, making the skies BRIGHTER (as per TFS and TFA) means increasing photon flux density. The current limit for most plants to withstand light falls between 1500-1800umol. After that, you rapidly begin approaching photosynthetic poisoning (AKA bleaching0 of plant tissues. Many food crops, especially vegetative ones, don't tolerate very high light levels. Most lettuces prefer roughly 300-600 umol, and start doing undesirable things at anything much higher, like bolting and not creating a compact head, or outright turning white.

          This is one of the worst ideas I've heard coming from Californian scientists in a long long time. Makes me glad to be working with better-educated European horticultural companies.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            "Photosynthesis is more effective in diffuse light."

            No, it's really not. Chlorophyll has a neat mechanism by which light tends to (usually) work in one direction. You can test this for yourself. Obtain a test tube of chlorophyll in a suspended liquid solution. Take an incandescent light. If you put the test tube directly between you and the light at eye level, you will see it as mostly red. Any other direction, you see it as green.

            Absolutely true...

            But what the hell do you imagine that has to do with how effective photosynthesis is for a particular illumination environment? Yes, chlorophyl absorbs blue and some red, and reflects green -- no matter WHAT direction it comes from. You can test this for yourself -- same experiment as above, but rotate both the light source and the observer around the tube (or rotate the tube, if you like), and note that the color effects depend on the relative angle of the incident light and your eye, and

            • by Khyber (864651)

              "Yes, chlorophyl absorbs blue and some red, and reflects green"

              WRONG.

              http://pcp.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/4/684.full [oxfordjournals.org]

              And that one link right there blows the rest of your argument away.

              • by Daetrin (576516)
                "And that one link right there blows the rest of your argument away."

                I don't really see how it does. He got the color spectrum of light absorption by chlorophyll wrong, but he's correct that you got the law of conservation of energy wrong. Claiming that a single error disproves everything someone said, even the parts unrelated to the error, is a logical fallacy, and claiming so in an arrogant manner just makes you sound like an ass and makes people more inclined to distrust what you have to say.

                Do yours
  • Night lights. (Score:5, Informative)

    by sackbut (1922510) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:14AM (#40179603)
    I am sure for both amateur and professional astronomers that this would result in horrible seeing conditions as well. Please look at http://www.darksky.org/ [darksky.org]. Dark night time skies are hard enough to find due to light pollution even now. Better than global warming I guess!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cpu6502 (1960974)

      I've noticed people have a tendency to turn-on lights when they don't really need them. Like turning on all the lights in the kitchen, and then sitting in the living room watching TV. The lights in the kitchen burn for hours with nobody using them. Why is that?

      I turn-off the lights when I'm not in a room..... and even if I'm in a room, I typically just use the glow from the TV and my computer's CRT. That's probably why I have a lightbulb that's nearing 20 years old and still working.

      • Re:Night lights. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:54AM (#40180163)

        Usually people do this for the indirect lighting though. You probably don't want the light on in the room with the TV, but you don't want the house to be completely dark either.

      • Re:Night lights. (Score:4, Informative)

        by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:03AM (#40180291)

        I turn-off the lights when I'm not in a room..... and even if I'm in a room, I typically just use the glow from the TV and my computer's CRT.

        You must have some phenomenal eyesight there. I don't know about you, but my eyes don't cope very well with extremely high contrasts. If a screen were so bright as to be usable as a light source in a dark room, I would be unable to read the text on it because of the overall ambient darkness to which my eyes would be adapted under the circumstances.

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        Yup, I'm a dad and one of my sworn duties is to turn off lights. Tempted to get the light switch sensors like we have at work.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          IF you have a 60 watt bulb, and you are charged 10 cents a Kw, that's 10 cents very 16 hours. How much do sensors cost?

          OTOH, standing a little more on a sensor to simple use less energy, even at a high cost, then you should do it.

        • by digitig (1056110)

          Yup, I'm a dad and one of my sworn duties is to turn off lights. Tempted to get the light switch sensors like we have at work.

          Ah yes, it's true that children brighten up the home.

          • by Xaedalus (1192463)

            Yup, I'm a dad and one of my sworn duties is to turn off lights. Tempted to get the light switch sensors like we have at work.

            Ah yes, it's true that children brighten up the home.

            When you light them on fire.

      • Re:Night lights. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:09AM (#40180359) Homepage Journal

        Because people don't like feeling they live in a cave.

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          You feel like you're in a cave if all the lights in the house aren't on?

          Weird.

          And expensive.

          • by nedlohs (1335013)

            Just how expensive is electricity where you are?

            There are 15 rooms in my house (I'm counting the garage and two outside lights as rooms since we really care about lights). If I put a 100W light in each and left them on 24x7 I would use 100W * 24*365.25 = 877kWh.

            The highest rate for my electricity (which is the summer one) is $0.187 so that gives a yearly cost of putting 100W bulbs in every socket, leaving them on 24x7, and paying the summer rate all year of $164.

            $14 a month isn't "expensive", it's less than

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            It isn't weird at all if you don't make a point to try and misunderstand what he means. If you are in a lit room, and the next room over is dark, you cannot see that the other room even exists because your pupils constrict to let in only enough light to comfortably see in a lit room. This makes a person feel like they are in a space that is much smaller than they are really in. It is even worse than being in a room that is that small because the dividing line between open space and the boundary of sight
            • by Joce640k (829181)

              Maybe you have night blindness or something. When the door's open enough light escapes for me to see as far as I can see.

              Or maybe you have a house with rooms the size of basketball courts. I dunno.

            • by Joce640k (829181)

              It isn't weird at all if you don't make a point to try and misunderstand what he means. If you are in a lit room, and the next room over is dark, you cannot see that the other room even exists because your pupils constrict to let in only enough light to comfortably see in a lit room.

              Ok, let's take it literally ... you're in a light place looking into a dark place.

              Isn't that like living *outside* a cave...?

      • What I did was install one of those motion detectors in the kitchen and hooked the normal lights to it. It works great. While you are in there the lights come on, stay on and you can do anything you need. You can then take your food out with you and the lights turn off so you never worry about having to go back and turn them off. You can even use LED lights for greater efficiency.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        " The lights in the kitchen burn for hours with nobody using them. Why is that?"

        It means electric energy is too cheap.

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:15AM (#40179613)
    Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?
  • by cirby (2599) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:15AM (#40179623)

    Thanks, guys.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      We at the Monsanto corportation don't feel that you're sarcasm is warranted. Honestly, after all the Frankenscience we've unleased to this point to benefit mankind and large scale agricultural producers, we just don't see why you guys are getting so bent out of shape over a little, bitty amount of reflective dust.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        We at the Monsanto corportation don't feel that you're sarcasm is warranted

        We who are not Monsanto don't think that the GP is sarcasm, either! His post, maybe, but not him.

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:17AM (#40179649) Journal
    The effect they describe can be seen in Atlanta on particularly bad days (although it also sometimes has a greenish yellow tinge in the spring when the pollen counts get insanely high.) What really hit me in the gut, though, was seeing the city from atop a mountain a hundred miles away. The Blue Ridge mountains around us were all surrounded by clear blue skies, but Atlanta to the south was shrouded in what looked like a gray-violet miasma. The same smog that turned the skies white inside the city was gray from a distance.

    I think we need to be more concerned with pulling crap out of the atmosphere than putting more stuff in it.
    • You're not suggesting that humans could possibly affect nature or the weather, are you? As all the AGW will tell you, there is absolutely no way we puny humans could possibly do anything to change weather patterns, affect rain or pollute the air.

      What you're seeing is a natural event, something that comes and goes over the centuries. It happened in the past and will happen again (sorry for the BSG reference).

      • by sgt_doom (655561)
        Thanks for addressing this subject in a scientific, logical, literate and untypically thinking human manner.

        I knew there were still humans posting here --- not every comment is from a chatbat!

      • ....that the Jonah-swallowed-by-the-whale was nothing more than an alien abduction scene, and that the so-called Rapture event recounted in the bible (people flying into the air and sky) was nothing more than the wobble of the Earth, which occurs infrequently, once every 12,000 to 26,000 years.....
    • by Nidi62 (1525137)
      I have seen some amazing skies here in metro Atlanta though. Greenish-orange (was the oddest color I'd ever seen, think it was a spring storm coming in at late afternoon), bright-pink to almost magenta, etc. I also work at the airport right now, and from there it always looks like there is a light-gray haze around the city. Unless it's raining, then it becomes a bluish-dark gray haze.
    • by malhombre (892618) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:48AM (#40180105)
      I grew up in the hills of southern California in the 60s. That was before much had been done to improve air quality. We had the most beautifully colored sunsets back then. Of course, some fool had to go and ruin it all for me by explaining the fact that all those amazing colors were sinister poisonous gases and not some awesome gift of nature. Then one day I flew into LA and down through a cloud of nasty brownish gray smog that made me want to hold my breath until we landed. So much for the magic of childhood.
  • I really don't know why this is even being considered.

    For reason that should be plainly obvious, it also reminds me of the Matrix... just with the opposite color.

    • by RaceProUK (1137575) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:25AM (#40179733)
      All ideas should be considered, no matter how ridiculous. Not all should be practised though.
      • by danlip (737336) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:35AM (#40179895)

        This idea should be considered idiotic :)

        Clearly the correct (and most feasible) approach to us putting too much CO2 into the atmosphere is to put less CO2 into the atmosphere, not embark on some other massive experiment with mother nature whose outcome we can't really predict. Between solar, wind, and nuclear it's not hard to do, it's just not very popular with the big oil interests that control our politics.

        • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:39AM (#40179963)

          Between solar, wind, and nuclear it's not hard to do, it's just not very popular with the big oil interests that control our politics.

          It's also not popular with the people that protest against oil and oil interests. They won't let us invest in new nuclear reactor technology or build new plants, then complain when all the nuclear plants we have are old and outdated.

          • Actually Nuclear doesn't seem popular with anyone right now, but seems the least bad of all possible choices at hand.

        • by LoyalOpposition (168041) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:41AM (#40179989)

          Clearly the correct (and most feasible) approach to us putting too much CO2 into the atmosphere is to put less CO2 into the atmosphere

          Yep. That's why I never exercise. Clearly the correct and most feasible approach to putting too much food into my mouth is to put less food into my mouth.

          ~Loyal

          • Actually, that's a better analogy than you give it credit for. If you eat less than you need, the only choice is to burn fat. Exercising makes you need more calories, but it's not strictly necessary to do anything if you always eat slightly less than you use. Much like CO2 in the atmosphere. Plants need CO2 to live, just like we need calories, and they "burn" it by converting it to biomass. We're putting more into the atmosphere than they use, so we're gaining CO2. If we put less into the atmosphere than th

        • by geekoid (135745)

          if we stopped produce CO2s, right this moment, it would be 100 years before a decline would begin.
          So considering ways to offset it's effects are not idiotic.

          Yes, we need to reduce, a lot. Yes, having a way to scrub the atmosphere would be great.

          • by Khyber (864651)

            "Yes, we need to reduce, a lot. Yes, having a way to scrub the atmosphere would be great."

            So plant more trees and crops and algae farms.

        • by Asic Eng (193332)

          Yes that would be the correct approach, but at some point it will be too late to use that because we already put too much in. I'm not all that confident that we can get our act together before that. Heck - I'm surprised this hasn't deteriorated in yet another "global warming skeptic" debate by now.

        • by dr2chase (653338)

          Correct, yes. Most feasible, probably not, because there are plenty of people making money on the status quo, and a fair amount of "economic value" depends on burning fossil fuels that are still in the ground (a scary amount -- http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175499/ [tomdispatch.com] -- search for "value" to skip chit-chat about the climate). Assume that something similar holds in China. Given this, there's going to be a powerful economic incentive to stick with business as usual, and plenty of money whose jobs, wealt

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:26AM (#40179741)

    Well almost every time. Like the damming of rivers which kills fish and blocks the natural flow of sediment. Or levees that make rivers flow faster and, when the flood happens, is far worse than a natural un-leveed flood. Or putting-out forest fires such that, when a fire happens now there's massive overgrowth that turns a small blaze into an inferno that makes the ground into glass.

    Isn't it about time we learn to LIVE with nature, instead of trying to engineer it and screwing up? Over millions-of-years nature has reached a natural balance with its flow-of-rivers, floods, and the occasional fire (trees developed fire-retardant bark). All we humans manage to do is frak it up.

    • Maybe nature isn't meant to be in balance. Maybe God likes it this way. It's more interesting to watch.

      Did you ever have an ant farm as a kid? Did you shake it? Of course you did. Because balance is boring. Maybe after God got tired of looking at dinosaurs, he flicked a big asteroid this way. Then, he created a special kind of ant that made far more intricate stuff than ever before. Then, when he tires of us, he'll shake things up again.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Maybe nature isn't meant to be in balance. Maybe God likes it this way. It's more interesting to watch.

        No. Nature was perfectly balanced before EVIL HUMANS came along; just look at the 'Hockey Stick' temperature graph... long straight line for centuries until EVIL HUMANS started burning coal.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "Isn't it about time we learn to LIVE with nature, instead of trying to engineer it and screwing up?"
      no. We control fire, make beams of light, send people to space because we engineer things. Otherwise we would all be living in a cave.

      "Over millions-of-years nature has reached a natural balance with its flow-of-rivers, "
      incorrect. Natures has not 'balance'. It's just a system. And it changes, and it respond according to the laws of physics.
      EVERYTHING changes the environment around it.

      You can feel free to c

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      Nature corrects itself. It's called mass extinction or ecologic disaster.
      It's a simple control loop: The environment will get worse until the number of humans on the planet is cut way down, one way or another.

    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      Nature has absolutely no compunction about killing humans in large quantities regardless of whether we want to live with her or not. It seems like people who talk about "natural balance" perhaps don't consider (or don't care about) the fact that towns now exist in flood plains. While it's really nice in a 20/20 hindsight sort of way to say "well, you shouldn't have build your town there", it's not really practical to just pick up and move entire cities to the hills (which, btw, are subject to other "natur

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Building in flood plains is pretty stupid. Rather than deal with that stupidity, humans are trying to redirect rivers around the towns...... and then they whine-and-moan when it doesn't work, and the river wipes out the town. DUH. Maybe after the river wipes-out your town, you should remove the wreckage and plant some crops there instead. The humans can live elsewhere.

         

  • by nani popoki (594111) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:26AM (#40179743) Homepage
    Oh great. As if amateur (and some professional) astronomers don't have enough light pollution to deal with! This would extent twilight and thus reduce the useful observing time.
  • by Guppy (12314) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:27AM (#40179753)

    solar geoengineering could lead to brighter, whiter skies, and sunsets with an afterglow

    It would probably also interfere with ground-based astronomy and our view of the night sky, by direct absorption/scattering of starlight, and by worsening Skyglow [wikipedia.org] effects, increasing scattering terrestrial sources of light back at us. Life-long urban residents already have no idea what a proper view of the Firmament looks like (not even knowing the Milky Way is something you can see with your own naked eyes!), never having seen more than the moon and a pathetic handful of dots.

  • by MickLinux (579158) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:31AM (#40179835) Journal
    With too much sun(>10 hours) , potatos yield seed instead of tubers. Specifically, they flower and die. Brightening the sky would also increase the effective day length, destroying the staple crop of much of the world's poor. I think there is a huge arrogance popping its head up again.
    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      >>>destroying the staple crop of much of the world's poor. I think there is a huge arrogance popping its head up again

      Given a recent RT News report about the UK government & other NGOs funding sterilization in poor countries like India, I don't think they care about killing potato crops. It's just another long-term method of reducing the world population to a "sustainable" level. (About 1 billion.)

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      it seems the point would be to make less sun hit the ground(thus less solar cell efficiency).

      anyways.. about 10 hours. ever heard of the arctic circle? you know, nightless nights? where they grow potatos too? it's just a variety thing(omg pre-industrial bio-engineering).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almond_potato [wikipedia.org]

  • by sugarmatic (232216) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:38AM (#40179945)

    ...I have to say this is a really stupid idea. It would absolutely prevent ground-based solar observation of the corona, important to astrophysical studies and space weather. To give an idea of how difficult it is already, one must image or analyze brightness levels on the order of a millionth of the brightness of the solar disk to do real science, on time scales of five minutes or less, at very narrow wavelength bandwidths. There simply aren't enough photons to average out the noise with sky brightness levels above around 20 ppm on time scales that are meaningful, and detector noise makes measurements above 30 ppm sky brightness pretty much futile.

    There are not very many places on earth with the necessary to make even part-time measurements as it is.

    The night time folks will be screwed as well.

    The winners will be a few large multinational corporations with the funds to corrupt policy. The losers will be the rest of us.

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:40AM (#40179973)

    So who in their right mind is suggesting that we even need to do such a stupid thing as adding more sulfates to the atmosphere on purpose? To grow more food? Not likely. Reduce solar heating and counteract Global Warming? Seriously?

    Pumping sulfates into the atmosphere is basically what causes acid rain and purposely pumping tones of this stuff into the air is not a good idea for the environment. Besides the quickest way to do this would be to return to burning high sulfur coal for power...

    This is clearly just another scientist trying to secure or justify funding for investigating some crazy hair brained "Global Warming" snake oil fix. It is like funding the "free energy" science schemes or searching for the fountain of youth.

    This is nothing but a huge waste of money and time..

  • your tinfoil is powerless here.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:57AM (#40180193)

    ... rife with unintended consequences. If you're going to turn UP the lights, you'd damn well better have a way to turn them back DOWN again. Large repositionable mirrors in space would do this. Throwing crap into the atmosphere because it's cheaper would not.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Depends on the crap. You could create something with a life expectancy. Or something that's easier to collect and store then CO2

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Large repositionable mirrors in space would do this.

      NASA studied using mirrors in space to illuminate the jungle at night during the Vietnam War; they would have launched a cut-down LEM with a large folding mirror attached which would unfold when it was in orbit.

      I thought that was cool. OK, it was also stupid and insanely expensive, but I'm sure plenty of soldiers would have preferred to spend their Vietnam War service sitting in orbit pointing a mirror at the jungle rather than being shot at down in said jungle.

  • by mspohr (589790) on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:21AM (#40180527)

    Painting roofs white could do much more than these risky geoengineering boondogles.
      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/30/492153/how-painting-roofs-white-can-help-turn-off-the-world-for-a-year/ [thinkprogress.org]

  • by PPH (736903)

    Crop yields are a non issue. As the earth warms, large tracts of tundra in northern latitudes will become available for agriculture. We might end up having a surplus of arable land.

    Now, if you happen to be a farmer in Texas or Oklahoma, you're screwed. But this is a global issue. Some will win, some will lose, but in the final analysis, mankind benefits.

  • Something that could be deployed internationally, something cheap, something that could be initially shipped in a small package, something that only required solar power and water to absorb CO2. Perhaps something that even released oxygen into the atmosphere, provided shade, grew some sort of sweet, nutritious fruits or nuts and and was shaped in a way that small children could climb in the summertime.

    Alas, such an advanced device is well beyond the realm of our science, or our scientific imagination.

  • . . . . from the blue screen to the blue screen --- please, just say no to Bill Gates and his geoengineering the earth schemes.
  • ... isn't the sky supposed to be BLUE?

  • "We don't know who struck first, us or them. But we do know it was us that scorched the sky." Morpheus: The Matrix

  • Wouldn't it be easier to reduce emissions as recommended by every decent scientist for decades? I am tired of all the oddball solutions that are being put forward instead of a mature response to the problem. The leaders and voters get to avoid the hard decisions because they believe the magic solution is just around the corner. We need to face up to the problems we have created and work towards solving them, not looking for the "magic" solution that will make all the bad news go away.

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