The Marine Cloud Brightening project goals to combat global warming

The flight deck of a decommissioned World War II-era aircraft carrier docked in Alameda recently began launching something apart from airplanes: microscopic saltwater droplets that scientists hope will help counteract the consequences of climate change .

A team of atmospheric scientists from the University of Washington teamed up with the Silicon Valley-based Stanford Research Institute, an independent nonprofit research organization, and SilverLining, a nonprofit focused on near-term climate risks, to review whether adding saltwater plumes This causes a cloud to be more reflective and stop excess heat from reaching the Earth's surface.

Cloud brightening is an idea first proposed by British scientist John Latham in 1990. After years of dialogue and experimentation, the University of Washington's privately funded effort to place Latham's idea to the test is now ready for testing outside of a lab.

The Marine Cloud Brightening Program is predicated on the USS Hornet, where scientists will spend the following few months testing equipment and constructing computer models to see if their laboratory results might be reproduced in real atmospheric conditions. The program's official launch on Wednesday brought together scientists from all over the world to debate the brand new technology and think about the test setup.

“This project is a truly unique collaboration,” said Kelly Wanser, managing director of SilverLining, throughout the program’s launch event.

The Hornet, an 80-year-old aircraft carrier that has now been converted right into a museum, was chosen as the positioning for the tests. Wanser said she was “blown away by the combination of science, history and technology [and] human innovation” on the ship.

Cloud Aerosol Research Instrument on the flight deck of the USS Hornet Museum on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Alameda, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Cloud Aerosol Research Instrument on the flight deck of the USS Hornet Museum on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Alameda, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

The Hornet was built during World War II and fought within the Cold War and the Vietnam War, said Russell Moore, Hornet marketing manager. His final mission was to retrieve the astronauts from the Apollo 11 and 12 missions after they landed within the Pacific Ocean. The Hornet was decommissioned after the Apollo mission and was slated for scrap. Instead, the ship was given a second life as a museum, and because the home for this experiment, a brand new chapter in its storied history is now opening.

Scientists on the University of Washington have already passed through about 70 iterations of the technology within the lab, Dr. Rob Wood, principal investigator and professor of atmospheric sciences on the University of Washington. Now they’re using the experiment on the Hornet to maneuver on to the following research step: testing the ocean salt plumes in real clouds.

After the jet of salt water is fired from nozzles of a rotating, fan-like machine, it disperses through the air and into the clouds. The droplets are broken down into tiny molecules only one thousandth the width of a human hair. The reflective effect of natural aerosols is imitated there. Scientists imagine that this increased reflectivity allows clouds to stop excess heat from reaching the Earth's surface and contributing to global warming.

Wood explained that there are quite a few questions on the actual effectiveness of the technology that they try to reply with this experiment.

“Even if we could get the particles to get into the clouds, how much do they light up the clouds?” he said. “Can we even make the particles we think are enough to lighten the clouds?”

“Every few minutes is different,” Wood said of the weather and wind conditions. “It's moving everything around, and hopefully that will dilute the cloud so that the particles are further apart and don't really interact with each other.”

The start of the project also included the screening of a Ted Talk by Dr. Sarah Doherty, the project's program director, during which she explained the science behind the experiment.

“This is not a solution to the climate crisis,” she said. “However, brightening ocean clouds could be a way to treat the main symptom of the problem, which is too much heat in the atmosphere and ocean.”

Wood acknowledged that there are some individuals who query whether the introduction of cloud brightening could have unintended consequences, adding that there are already studies at other universities examining possible consequences, comparable to for marine ecosystems.

“It’s a big effort that goes beyond this small part,” Wood said. “Ultimately it will always be a comparison to what would happen if we did nothing – if we just left climate change uncontrolled.”

image credit :