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Scientists Consider 'Cloud Brightening' To Preserve Australia's Great Barrier Reef (technologyreview.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: A group of Australian marine scientists believe that altering clouds might offer one of the best hopes for saving the Great Barrier Reef. For the last six months, researchers at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney School of Geosciences have been meeting regularly to explore the possibility of making low-lying clouds off the northeastern coast of Australia more reflective in order to cool the waters surrounding the world's biggest coral reef system...

Last year, as El Nino events cranked up ocean temperatures, at least 20% of the reef died and more than 90% of it was damaged. The Australian researchers took a hard look at a number of potential ways to preserve the reefs. But at this point, making clouds more reflective looks like the most feasible way to protect an ecosystem that stretches across more than 130,000 square miles, says Daniel Harrison, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ocean Technology Group at the University of Sydney. Cloud brightening is the only thing we've identified that's scalable, sensible, and relatively environmentally benign," he says... Next month, he plans to start computer climate modeling to explore whether cloud brightening could make a big enough temperature difference to help.

They're collaborating with Silicon Valley's Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which has spent the last seven years "developing a nozzle that they believe can spray salt particles of just the right size and quantity to alter the clouds. They're attempting to raise several million dollars to build full-scale sprayers." The article describes them as "one of several research groups that have started to explore whether cloud brightening, generally discussed as a potential tool to alter the climate as a whole, could be applied in more targeted ways."
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Scientists Consider 'Cloud Brightening' To Preserve Australia's Great Barrier Reef

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    So what happens if this intervention accidentally goes wrong and utterly destroys the entire reef? Wouldn't it be something if those who claim to be helping the reef end up killing it?

    • So what happens if this intervention accidentally goes wrong and utterly destroys the entire reef? Wouldn't it be something if those who claim to be helping the reef end up killing it?

      If this kind of intervention has bad side effects you can simply turn it off, and everything quickly goes away.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        you can discontinue the program, you can't necessarily turn off the effects and the negatives may not be noticed till it is too late. e.g. increased salinity in rains over land devastating rain forests on the coastal regions or maybe the decreased solar radiation would have a huge detrimental effect to other organisms in the reef.
    • So what happens if this intervention accidentally goes wrong and utterly destroys the entire reef? Wouldn't it be something if those who claim to be helping the reef end up killing it?

      Between climate change , ocean acidification , invasIive crown of thorns starfish and an idiot government wanting to stick the worlds largest coal mine smack in the midst off if creating a giant reef-fucking shipping route over the top of it, its already at the "disaster" stage. whole regions of the reef are dying every year

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
        Don't worry, the majority of slashdot thinks it's all a hippy fiction, so I'm sure everything will be just fine. Get some sand and dig a head-sized hole in it and you're good to go.
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Monday April 24, 2017 @01:29AM (#54290457) Homepage

      The living skin of the barrier reef has been destroyed many times, proof of this is in coral cores. The reef as we know it today, was a coastal formation several kilometres inland, not all that long ago in geologic terms. Basically environmental conditions at the reef are going outside of current coral polyp survival range, when conditions return so the coral polyp larvae that lands on the reef will thrive. Worrying about saving coral polyp housing is kind of stupid when we are going to be losing coastal human cities and the pollution from the run off from drowning cities will kill off a lot more than just coral. Fuck the reef, save our cities. You know what, by taking the right steps to prevent the rising sea levels, we can save both but lets focus on really serious shit we will be losing.

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
        Some people value irreplaceable biodiversity over some easily replaceable human infrastructure. You don't appear to be one of them though.
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      So what happens if your operation on a terminally ill patient doesn't work and they end up dying? Oh no, we better not try.
  • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Sunday April 23, 2017 @06:52PM (#54289347)

    Perhaps: Well the ocean temperature dropped enough, but turns out the local increase in salinity due to the cloud whitening machine spraying salt in to the air has killed off the entire Great Barrier Reef. Oops.

    • Seriously, is man's intervention the proper answer to man's interventions? Supposedly egalitarian inventions upon supposedly altruistic inventions might be the death of us all.The previous drone chemtrail news story, and now this. Hell. Hell on earth. That's what we need. Call Satan, just burn it all now and be done with the lot of it.

    • by SumDog ( 466607 ) on Sunday April 23, 2017 @08:34PM (#54289635) Homepage Journal

      Seriously. Do you know why Australia has the largest invasive camel population in the world? Settlers brought camels to help build settlements, then just left them in the desert. Their populations grew to 800,000 at one point. The Saudi's often import camels from Australia to breed against because they have more desirable traits and better breeds.

      Salting the could seems like a terrible idea. Geoengineering is not going to reverse pollution, it's just going to create more of it. We need to stop buying as much stuff. We need upgradeable electronics and more durable hardware. We need to have fewer factories and consume less. Climate change isn't even a real issue. There are so many other forms of pollution that are so much worse that by focusing on carbon emissions we are only looking at a symptom and not the core problem that consumerism/consumption is depleting the planet of critical resources.

      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday April 23, 2017 @09:09PM (#54289733) Homepage

        If you think you are going to mitigate the effects of the current anthogenic forced warming by consuming less, you are going to be a sad panda.

        Governments might tolerate cost shifting, tax increases or other economic versions of rearranging the deck chairs, but slowing growth isn't going to fly. To the first approximation, the entire world economy is based on increase. Even stasis is bad.

        Since a constant increase is an exponential function, we've got a bit of a problem as exponential functions tend not to be long lived natural phenomena. There is a reason that economics is called the 'dismal science'.

      • Do you know why Australia has the largest invasive camel population in the world?

        Australia has the only wild camel population in the world, and they are neither invasive nor a problem anyone really cares about.

        If you're looking for an example of silly human meddling causing grief in Australia, you've just managed to pick about the only thing that isn't one.

        • They are indeed invasive since they aren't native to the continent. And someone cares enough about them to shoot thousands of them from helicopters [bbc.co.uk].
          • They are indeed invasive since they aren't native to the continent.

            No dictionary defines invasive as purely non native. There already is another word for that.

            Invasive includes in its requirement that it spreads quickly causing damage. The cane-toad is invasive. The camel is far from it.

            And someone cares enough about them to shoot thousands of them from helicopters

            Thousands? Oh no! What will we do!

            We also waged an all out military campaign against emus (the great emu war)
            We cull over a million kangaroo every year.
            Kids easily kill as many toads too just for shits and giggles (toad golf was a fun passtime)

            The only people who give a shit about a few tho

            • I stand corrected on the use of invasive, which I didn't realize requires harmful. That's certainly debatable, another time perhaps. Saying no one cares about the camels is still wrong, however, since at least one person culls thousands of them.
      • In the US we had wild camels released by the US Army. Farmers killed them all eventually.
      • "The Saudi's often import camels from Australia to breed against because they have more desirable traits and better breeds."

        Would that also work for the British people?

    • Perhaps: Well the ocean temperature dropped enough, but turns out the local increase in salinity due to the cloud whitening machine spraying salt in to the air has killed off the entire Great Barrier Reef. Oops.

      It should be trivial to calculate the potential salinity increase. Do you really think environmental scientists trying to protect the reef won't bother to check that?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, I think the polititions will read the "Benefits" page, skip the "Possible dangerous problems" page, impliment it and proudly point out "I'm doing something about it", leaving all problems for someone else. I'll lay odds that they will also be good friends with the company being hired to do the work.

        • The best solution is one that sounds impressive, does little, has no risk, and quietly slushes money off to friends.

          It sounds impressive to get votes. It does little so you can 'solve' the same problem again next year (see for example, the medicare doc fix). It has no risk, because, you know, that could make me look bad. Anything with risk needs to be rethought.
      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday April 24, 2017 @05:43AM (#54290949)

        Do you really think environmental scientists trying to protect the reef won't bother to check that?

        Yes, but only because the range of coral survivability is high enough that if they manage to spray enough to matter then I would question how much global warming we would be causing by burning kerosene to get the stuff in the air in the first place.

    • but turns out the local increase in salinity

      It's funny. A number one claim of climate science deniers is that a tiny increase in ppm in CO2 concentration can't make a difference, but now when a small change in salinity actually would be immeasurable (where do you think the salt comes from in the first place?) and even if it was measurable wouldn't make a difference given the wide variety of salinity in which coral thrives, ... now suddenly it's a problem.

      I get it. Scientists never have a clue about anything. Everyone else is smarter.

      • It worked out great when someone thought it was a good idea to bring cane toads to Australia to reduce the native cane beetle population.

        • It worked out great when someone thought it was a good idea to bring cane toads to Australia to reduce the native cane beetle population.

          It worked out even better when Ford started mass producing a car. Incidentally it has just as much relevance to what we're talking about as your comment.

          • This article and my comment both describe two types of ecoengineering. Quite different from mass production of cars.

            • And one type of eco-engineering (introducing an uncontrollable animal) compared to another (controlled release of a material that has a temporary effect) also have nothing to do with each other.

    • by PJ6 ( 1151747 )

      Perhaps: Well the ocean temperature dropped enough, but turns out the local increase in salinity due to the cloud whitening machine spraying salt in to the air has killed off the entire Great Barrier Reef. Oops.

      OK, I'm not Randall Monroe, but here we go -

      There is about 120 million tons of salt in a single cubic mile of seawater. A very conservative estimate of the volume of seawater around the Great Barrier Reef is 8,000 cubic miles.

      That's nearly a trillion tons of salt.

      If we dropped a BILLION TONS of salt over that area, it wouldn't change the water's salinity - by even a rounding error.

      • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

        That would depend entirely upon how many positions you round to.

      • yeah, that's cool.
        But the coal is at the surface of the water, what happens when there is a sudden increase in salt, as it dissolves and disperses?
        I'm not saying it will be a problem, I'm saying someone might not have have figured out if it is or isn't.

  • by White_FC ( 815305 ) on Sunday April 23, 2017 @06:55PM (#54289359)
    We have a long list of hilariously bad attempts at introducing things for the ‘better’ in Australia, The Cane Toad, Gamba Grass and Mimosa Pigra just name a few biological examples. I hope this effort doesn’t get added to our list of failures!
    • "But we do know it was us that scorched the sky"
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by quenda ( 644621 )

      Since the cane toad disaster, people have been more careful, and many biological control efforts have been extremely successful.

      The prickly-pear moth, or rust fungus just don't generate the same headlines as the cane toad from 1935.

    • by ferret4 ( 459105 )
      And we introduced white people, hardly a roaring success for any of the indigenous human, plant and animal populations.
      • The aboriginals weren't exactly a boon for the megafauna of Australia either. Let's just face it, humans are bad for the environment no matter what their ethnicity.

    • The problem is you don't have a winter to kill off the gorillas. Need some global cooling for a bit.
    • Given the rate at which we burn coal, flood the ocean with phosphates and generally have done our best to fuck up the reef, at this point there's no real downside to doing this test. We're already approaching a worst case scenario here.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by aussie_a ( 778472 )

      Don't forget humans! The aboriginals decimated the the Australian ecosystem long before white man ever came along.

  • Genius. Spray salt particles into the clouds. Then after the die-off from the salt water rains, we can all blame Trump.
  • To give the coral back its colour. There are plenty of good marine paints that can be used. Just around the tourist spots will do.

  • by mjr167 ( 2477430 ) on Sunday April 23, 2017 @08:12PM (#54289567)

    On the one hand we complain about man interfering with natural processes and bemoan climate change caused by our greed and shortsightedness... on the other we propose deliberately altering the natural processes in order to cause climate change because we know better?

    And if it goes horribly wrong due to our shortsightedness and arrogance? I know several people who truly in the depths of their hearts believe that they know better, are brilliant, and can do no wrong. A little self doubt can do the world a lot of good.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      While geoengineering absolutely calls for a high standard of knowing what we're doing, equating it with global warming is like saying swords kill people so surgery is stupid.

      • While geoengineering absolutely calls for a high standard of knowing what we're doing, equating it with global warming is like saying swords kill people so surgery is stupid.

        Please try to keep it straight:

        Swords don't kill people.
        People with swords kill people.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      So your proposal is... do nothing?

      • by mjr167 ( 2477430 )

        Sometimes you have to jump off the cliff and hope for the best. Other times, its better to wait.

        Consider the implications of failure of a plan like this. If the consequences of failure are worse than doing nothing.... then yes. Do nothing.

        I remember some bright idea to genetically engineer mosquitoes to wipe out malaria... A noble goal. The fish population in the area they tried it on took a nose dive. So yes... sometimes nothing is better.

  • Last I checked the western hemisphere's tropical and subtropical oceans warm while the eastern cool during an El Nino, while the opposite is true during a La Nina. We had one of the longest La Ninas lasting many years until last year which is why the California drought became so severe.

    Am I wrong?

    • by Dantoo ( 176555 ) on Sunday April 23, 2017 @08:52PM (#54289685)

      At the end of an El Nino the warm pool of water drifts across the Pacific just below the equator. El Nino usually breaks down during the southern hemisphere summer.

      There are times when the warmer surface water, ex El-Nino arrives at the back half of the Australian summer. The reef itself slows water movement from the north/south directions but it is fairly open to surface waters arriving from the east. This allows the warmer El Nino to start pooling inside the outer barrier.
      If the timing is right, this water is further heated and can trigger conditions where many coral species will "bleach". They eject their symbiotic algae. This does not kill the polyps. Usually the water cools enough so that the algae re-colonises and all continues as it was. Surface water temperature above 30 deg C is not uncommon in this area during summer in any normal year.

      Cooling usually happens through tidal flow and storm (including tropical revolving storms) activity. The end of December, start of January, brings spring tides that also effectively mix the water. The tides a month later are also effective. The main cooling effect comes from the south east trade winds that cool that surface waters and bring them over the reef. They also have a strong influence in reversing the East Australia Current. In El Nino conditions the trade winds are greatly reduced exacerbating the conditions.

      Making shinier clouds looks like complete and utter hokum. More chance of a benefit arising from having Trump building a wall across the equatorial pacific and having Hawaii pay for it.

      • I know! We can engineer more persistent symbiotic algae. I sure we can find a 'mother-in-law' gene somewhere and slice it in.

        Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

    • Yes, you're wrong [gbrmpa.gov.au]. The strong El Niño amplified [gbrmpa.gov.au] sea surface temperatures for the Reef.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Indeed, and keep that system discovered over a century ago in mind when science deniers keep on telling you that climate science is "new".
      However, the reef is in shallow water and blocks a lot of water flow so local air temperature drives the local water temperature more than currents, so other stuff matters more.
  • Spraying shit into clouds to alter them and the weather is a whacked out conspiracy theory....isn't it?
  • ...at least 20% of the reef died and more than 90% of it was damaged.

    Leaving -10% of the coral reef in good shape.

    • ...at least 20% of the reef died and more than 90% of it was damaged.

      Leaving -10% of the coral reef in good shape.

      R U Seriously?

      They're counting "death" as a sub-category of "damaged". Duh. This means that only 10% was measurably unhurt.

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      The two things aren't mutually exclusive, reef doesn't just go from perfect to dead in an instant, the death was caused by damage.

      So over 90% of the reef was damaged, 20% of that damaged reef then outright died.

    • by GNious ( 953874 )

      #AmericanMathematics

  • This is unfortunately how it's going to go. I don't see spraying clouds with salt essentially as being a huge problem as the oceans have a lot of salt so it will likely just fall back in. If it works, it might help to save their reef which is apparently worth billions to their economy. The trade-off is cooling an area that large could cause spin off effects that could affect other parts of the world. I wonder how many climate change deniers are against them doing this? After all if burning a river of o

  • Cloud seeding used to be used to cause rain, which of course depletes the cloud of its vapor that reflects light. It seems to me somebody's computer model needs some slight adjustment here, because it can't work both ways.

    .
    On the other hand, how much CO2 will go into the atmosphere trying to force enough salt into the atmosphere? Where is the trade off point on the effect vs damage from grinding, shipping, and blowing that salt hard enough into the sky? Clearly the whole process and its infrastructure m

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