Buying Time for Coal “Rapture”

MLO transmission ratio - Solar radiation reduc...

Temperature Changes from Volcano Eruptions via Wikipedia

With the US government breathing down the neck of the coal industry over emissions and threatening to shut down as many coal plants as politicians will tolerate,  I stumbled across this story about research papers produced by scientists who study the effect of volcanoes suggesting that one way to “buy time” until global warming policies can be implemented by displacing coal with clean fuels would be to inject SO2 into the stratosphere to replicate the impact that volcano eruptions have in reducing global temperatures temporarily following their explosions.

I know you think this is a joke, but sulfur dioxide is the air pollutant that causes acid rain.  The US EPA’s Acid Rain Program, has substantially reduced SO2 emissions. The litigation by the New England states over acid rain was early impetus for cap and trade legislation and the US EPA’s proposed “endangerment” finding to support additional regulations on coal power generation.

So when scientists predisposed to support global warming actions that threaten our lifestyle and economy suggest that maybe SO2 might have a beneficial use after all—it got my attention. Maybe this is scientific parody but at a cost of a mere $24 million per year to spray 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into that no weather zone called the stratosphere to reduce or eliminate the need for much more expensive solutions it would be well—too cheap to meter—if you’ll pardon the pun!

Quit laughing and read the Stratosphere white paper:

  • Create a Stratoshield in the Stratosphere. “The stratosphere is the weather-free portion of the atmosphere at altitudes between about 10 kilometers and 50 kilometers, or 33,000 to 165,000 feet.) The attractiveness of this approach stems largely from the fact that it happens naturally during large volcanic eruptions, such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. Intensive scientific study of the Pinatubo eruption showed that sulfur dioxide aerosols injected high in the atmosphere cooled the planet by reflecting more incoming sunlight back into space. An even larger eruption in 1815 of Mount Tambora in Indonesia led to the second-coldest year in the northern hemisphere in four centuries, the “year without a summer”.
  • Build Aerosol-spraying blimps to deliver SO2. “High flying blimps, based on existing protoypes, could support a hose no thicker than a fire hose (above) to carry sulfur dioxide as a clear liquid up to the stratosphere, where one or more nozzles (below) would atomize it into a fine mist of nanometer-scale aerosol particles.”
  • Limited Technological Risk. “The system would use only technologies and materials that already exist—although some improvements may be needed to existing atomizer technology in order to achieve wide sprays of nanometer-scale sulfur dioxide particles and to prevent the particles from coalescing into larger droplets. Annual operating costs would run approximately $10 million. Even if these cost estimates are off by a factor of 10 (and we think that is unlikely), this work appears to remove cost as an obstacle to cooling an overheated planet by technological means.”
  • We simulated this is the lab—trust us!  “Preliminary modeling studies suggest that two million to five million metric tons of sulfur dioxide aerosols (carrying one million to 2.5 million tons of sulfur), injected into the stratosphere each year, would reverse global warming due to a doubling of CO₂, if the aerosol particles are sufficiently small and well dispersed. Two million tons may sound like a lot, but it equates to roughly 2% of the SO₂ that now rises into the atmosphere each year, about half of it from manmade sources (READ: politically correct speak for coal-fired power plants), and far less than the 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide released over the course of a few days by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Scientific studies published so far conclude that any increase in the acidity of rain and snow as several million additional tons a year of SO₂ precipitate out of the atmosphere would be minuscule and would not disrupt ecosystems.
  • Start small—just save the Arctic!  “A rough first-order estimate is that injection of as little as 200,000 metric tons a year of sulfur dioxide aerosol into the stratosphere above this region could offset warming within the Arctic.”

So what?

So a $24 million “science experiment” to take the SO2 we are extracting from flue gas and squirt it higher into the stratosphere to replicate the impact of volcano eruptions and offset the supposed impact of global warming sounds a lot less risky to me than “rapture”.

You could probably even recover the $24 million by selling naming rights to coal companies and power utilities for the project.