Geoengineering is also called climate engineering or climate intervention. It is the planned intervention in the Earth's climate with the intention of moderating the undesirable effects of global warming.

What is Geoengineering?
What is Geoengineering?

Len Calderone for | AltEnergyMag

Geoengineering is also called climate engineering or climate intervention. It is the planned intervention in the Earth's climate with the intention of moderating the undesirable effects of global warming.

Some scientists would like us to refrain from using the term geoengineering and use "climate intervention." They think that geoengineering is a confusing term, because “geo” refers to the earth, not precisely to the climate, and engineering is something we do with systems we can control, but not a system, which we can’t control, as intricate as the climate.

Regional weather changes have global consequences. As an example, the Three Gorges Dam on China's Yangtze River, appears to be causing the temperatures in its valley to drop, which lessens rainfall in the area. Another example is the draining of Kazakhstan's once-vast Aral Sea, which has made regional temperatures hotter in summer and colder in winter. Because of this, rain rarely falls.

We use about one-third of all the fresh water that is available in lakes, rivers and aquifers, causing a fourth of Earth's river basins to run dry before they reach the sea.

About 12 percent of Earth's land surface is devoted to crops, making it difficult to predict how agriculture in the Great Plains affects weather, while other outcomes are more obvious, such as the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest, which disrupts the regional cycles of evaporation and condensation. If the Amazon rain forest loses its carbon dioxide-absorbing capabilities, the temperatures around the Earth will rise.

Photo of rain forest by Wikimedia commons

As a result of pollution, climate change, overfishing and ocean acidification, the great barrier reefs off of Australia is being lost with one-third of the reef’s species being endangered.

With carbon emissions rising, proposals to study and increase geoengineering technologies are taking hold as a prospective last resort to save the planet. A growing number of scientists are saying that it’s time we give the controversial technologies a meaningful look.


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International scientists agree that the goal to prevent violating the Paris climate target of staying below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit is running out. A pause in the rise in CO2 emissions has ended. CO2 in the atmosphere is hitting levels that have not been seen in 3 million years.

One geoengineering plan would have planes loaded with sulphate particles fly at 65,000 feet and spray the particles into the stratosphere.  This thickening cover of particles would fight climate change by imitating the yield of volcanic eruptions that avert solar radiation. 

NASA image by Robert Simmon

The eruption of sulphate particles from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 caused a global cooling of 10 degrees F during the following two years. The planned human-made eruption would cool things about 3 degrees. The sulphate spraying would not cost much more than $2 billion a year over the first 15 years of implementation, which is much less than cutting emissions.

Mount Pinatubo Eruption (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Another method is to remove more CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than nature puts there. This method involves seeding the oceans with iron to promote the growth of marine algae, which would promote algal blooms, soaking up CO2 from the water, which would cause more to be absorbed from the atmosphere. The chief concerns are what the effects that such blooms of algae could have on the marine food source to uncertainty about whether such local absorption would truly boost the ocean’s total removal of carbon.

Graphic by NASA Earth Observatory

A more quantifiable concept involves removing carbon from the atmosphere, utilizing the substantial distribution of devices to extract CO2 from the ambient air, which is known as direct air capture. Or more natural methods could be used, such as turning large areas of land over to carbon-absorbing crops—perhaps trees.

Climate stabilization could be achieved cost-effectively by boosting natural ecosystems. These systems could remove an extra 11 billion tons of CO2 out of the air each year by reforestation, better soil management, the protection of carbon-rich wetlands, such as peatlands, and growing more trees on farmland. This stabilization could be achieved on existing ravaged and degraded forests. The World Resources Institute calculates that globally there are 7.7 million square miles of forests, which have been damaged by logging or changing cultivation that could be restored. This is an area two times the size of Canada.

Research indicates that by solar geoengineering CO2 in the atmosphere, it could indirectly lower the amount of CO2 by stemming permafrost melt, cutting energy-sector emissions and triggering changes to the carbon-cycle feedback. The idea of geoengineering the climate in order to limit sunlight has been discussed by scientists for over 50 years, but only limited field research has been carried out.

Permafrost Thaw on Arctic River (Photo:

The last time the planet’s air was so rich in CO2—400 parts per million—was millions of years ago before our early predecessors were wielding stone tools. The world was a few degrees hotter back then, while melted ice had the sea levels thirty or more feet higher. 400 seems like a scary number, yet CO2 concentrations could easily pass 500 ppm in the upcoming decades, and possibly reach 2,000 by 2250, if CO2 emissions are not brought under control. 

Predicting future CO2 levels in the atmosphere is complex.  Even if we know what will occur to man-made emissions, the earth’s network of natural sources is vast and intertwined. While some plants grow faster in a carbon-rich world, deforestation takes some of these plants out of the equation. The ocean accumulates different volumes of CO2, depending on its temperature and circulation.

The majority of the world—both people and governments—do not know what geoengineering is, or who is advocating research and operation of these technologies, which could mean a substantial resource grab and the danger of a few entities having control of our global temperatures. This would indicate that we would become experimental subjects without giving our consent. Therefore, it is an urgent need to understand what is being proposed.

Some people fear that a geoengineered world could have its own set of environmental and societal challenges, which could be worse than the present climate change. Maybe there is a simpler solution and that is going back to nature by restoring natural forests, providing a natural climate solution. Afterall, we have only one planet to live on, and we can’t afford any significant mistakes.

* Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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