Humans love being in control and have found themselves their next target: the weather.
Meteorologists are well-versed when it comes to weather predictions. Past and present atmospheric conditions are studied, using different tools, and the acquired information is used to build educated guesses about the future weather. So, we have found a way to predict the weather. But what about controlling it? Now, I know what you must be thinking. “How can one control weather? It’s beyond our power!”. But what if I told you we already are?
Heard of the word ‘cloud seeding’? It is a practice that is becoming increasingly popular with the aim of stimulating the precipitation process to induce rain. Cloud seeding involves suspending particles such as dry ice, silver iodide aerosols or even our everyday table salt into the upper parts of the clouds. This, in turn, makes the clouds heavy, forcing them to release the accumulated moisture in the form of rain or snow. The practice has already been tested around the globe and preliminary results look promising.
Countries are exploring distinctive ways to practice cloud seeding. The standard approach that many countries, including UAE, follows involves sprinkling silver iodide particles onto clouds, either by plane or by blasting them through rockets. Another technique China is exploring involves naturally transporting the silver iodide through winds. No matter what the approach may be, the process post-cloud seeding remains the same: we wait and hope for rain.
When scientists are not adding particles into the air, they are busy looking for ways to create – wait for it – clouds. You heard it right. Termed as stratospheric aerosol injection, the aim behind the process is to prevent too much sunlight from entering the Earth’s atmosphere by reflecting it back into space. With less sunlight entering the atmosphere, the temperature is likely to drop and hopefully, reduce global warming and its consequent effects. Scientists at Harvard University are researching the possibility of, initially, using balloons to create clouds out of ice particles. Once the method has been tried and perfected, they hope to move on to chemicals to block even more sunlight. But this process already takes place naturally during a volcanic eruption.
When a volcano erupts, it shoots sulfurous clouds, thick enough to block the Sun’s rays, into the air and helps cool the planet. We, however, cannot term these eruptions as a ‘natural and better option’ to aerosol injections as the chemicals released during the eruption disrupts the ozone layer. Scientists are, hence, looking for other chemicals that could perform this job without wrecking the ozone layer.
EVERY ACTION HAS AN OPPOSITE REACTION
Although some success stories have made its way around, attracting countries to adopt the practice, one cannot determine the aftermath of our actions of toying with Mother Nature. Because at the end of the day, none of these processes are natural.
The adoption of cloud seeding, and stratospheric aerosol injection have caused researchers and scientists raise concerns over the practice. Models were used to predict the subsequent effect of spraying sun-blocking aerosols for 50 years straight and then stopping it all of a sudden. The results derived concluded that once the practice ceased, the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that still make their way into the atmosphere, would begin heating up the planet at a much faster pace than before. Ultimately, the temperatures would rise so quickly that animals would not have time to move to a comfortable environment, reaching a phase where species would be extinct.
The sudden and rapid cessation of geoengineering not only increases both ocean and land temperatures to unmatched speeds but also poses a threat to biodiversity. The consequent effects would be two to four times worse than the effects of global warming on its own.
Controlling may (or may not) be a harsh word to use, since, in literal terms, it’s impossible to control weather. Influence, however, seems to be a more appropriate term to use. Either way, experimenting and using the environment as a testbed for our research purposes should be a practice that needs to stop. We have already crossed the limits and going any further would mean digging our own graves – which we may have begun, for you all know.