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A geologist looks at geoengineering 15 September 2009

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Geoengineering our way out of climate catastrophe is flavour of the month in certain quarters: mechanical trees, giant sunshades, artificial volcanoes, etc.

Chris Rowan of Highly Allocthonous is not convinced about all this, and has an article about geoengineering at Seed Magazine explaining why. Related posts at Highly Allocthonous here and here.

Business as abnormalSeed Magazine, 14 September 2009

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Averting climate doom with artificial volcanoes 30 August 2009

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Artificial volcano at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. Flickr image from temptingmamma's photostream, Creative Commons licensed.

Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth reports The Times today: yes, it’s artificial volcanoes again. The idea is to reproduce the sulphur-propagating aspects of volcanic eruptions in order to cool the planet:

The Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change.

The society will this week call for a global programme of studies into geo-engineering — the manipulation of the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming — as the world struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It will suggest in a report that pouring sulphur-based particles into the upper atmosphere could be one of the few options available to humanity to keep the world cool.

See also: mechanical trees, slimy buildings, white paint on roofs, cloud-generating ships, artificial plankton blooms, giant space sunshield, wrapping Greenland in a blanket.

[Image of the artificial volcano at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, by temptingmama at Flickr, reproduced here under a Creative Commons license.]

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Volcanoes as weapons: beating Japan the geological way, 1944 3 March 2009

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Illustration from 'Can we blast Japan from below?' (1944)

What happens if you drop a bomb into a volcano? If the answer is ‘you make it erupt’ then perhaps you have a potential geo-weapon to hand. That, more or less, is the argument of ‘Can we blast Japan from below?’, an article from the January 1944 issue of Popular Science (available via Google Book Search). ‘Fear of volcanoes is so thoroughly ingrained in the minds of the Japanese’, writes the author, Professor Harold O. Whitnall of Colgate University, ‘that they have made gods of them’, and so great is their awe of these ‘smoking mountain deities’ that the mere act of bombing the volcanoes would cause ‘cataclysmic terror’. The real point of dropping bombs on Japanese volcanoes, however, is not mere psychological warfare. The point is to turn the volcanoes into weapons of war by artificially inducing eruptions.

Since shortly after Pearl Harbor, I have recommended that our all-out attack on the Japanese homeland be accompanied by bombing raids on Japanese volcanoes. I believe that explosives dropped down their throats may cause such a vomiting of lava and ash as to hasten the day of unconditional surrender.

The volcanoes of Japan, Whitnall argues, are part of a delicately-balanced system of geological forces. The explosive power of a big bomb or two dropped down the crater of a volcano might be enough to disrupt the balance:

In a dormant volcano, gases and molten matter beneath the plug may be gathering again and exerting new pressure for a blowout. Should it be that the time for an eruption is near, it is quite within the realm of possibility that a raid on the crater with block-busting bombs might be the force to set it off.

In his What Future for Japan? U.S. Planning for the Postwar Era, 1942-1945 (1995), Rudolf Janssens notes that in 1942 a proposal to ‘convince the mass of Japanese that their gods were angry with them, by dropping bombs down the craters and starting some nice little local eruptions’ did reach President Roosevelt, ‘but was not seriously considered’ (p. 50). The military historian Conrad C. Crane writes that General Henry H. Arnold, the USAAF officer responsible for American aerial bombing strategies during the Second World War, does seem to have been keen on the idea (along with such oddball notions as ‘bombing schools of fish off Japan’) but nothing came of it and the volcanoes remained unbombed.

It is possible the volcano-bombing proposal that landed on Roosevelt’s desk in 1942 came from Professor Whitnall: the reference to making the Japanese think ‘their gods were angry with them’ certainly echoes arguments in his 1944 article. If so, it is clear that two years on, and despite the lack of official acceptance, he had lost none of his enthusiasm for the idea.

‘The targets are many’, he urges, ‘and the openings wide’.

Conrad C. Crane, ‘Evolution of U.S. strategic bombing of urban areas’, Historian, vol. 40, no. 1 (November 1987), pp. 14-39.
Rudolf Janssens, What Future for Japan? U.S. Planning for the Postwar Era, 1942-1945 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995)
Harold O. Whitnall, ‘Can we blast Japan from below?’, Popular Science, vol. 144, no. 1 (January 1944), pp. 103-105.

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Artificial volcanoes: a solution to global warming? 6 June 2008

Posted by admin in climate, current research, geoscience, volcanoes.
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An article in the latest Popular Mechanics ponders geoengineering solutions to ‘the potentially devastating consequences of climate change’: specifically, reproducing through artificial means the cooling effects of major volcanic eruptions, such as that of Pinatubo in 1991:

One popular geoengineering scenario is to create an artificial volcano. Thomas Wigley, an expert on climate change based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., has created computer simulations that replicate the 1991 ‘Mount Pinatubo effect’ — a temporary cooling period created by the launch of 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere.

Wigley proposes mimicking the natural process by injecting sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide into the same region, 60,000 to 70,000 ft. above the earth’s surface. The compound would react to form a cloud of sulfuric acid droplets that would in turn reflect sunlight and cool the globe. Exactly how the material would be delivered isn’t clear—cannons, balloons and high-flying military planes are some ‘highly speculative’ options, he says.

These ideas aren’t ‘popular’ with everyone, however. Alan Robock, a meteorologist at Rutgers University, suggests that such grandiose notions just serve to distract attention from humbler, readily-available but politically difficult remedies: ‘It takes political will to lower carbon dioxide emissions. There are plenty of solutions already available’. Furthermore, Robock points out, artificial volcanoes will be ‘very expensive and locally polluting’.

It’s only a matter of time before someone suggests combating global warming by moving planet Earth ‘a bit further away from the sun’.

Expert Solutions to Global Warming – Geoengineering as Way to Prevent Global WarmingPopular Mechanics, 5 June 2008

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