* Experiment to pump water 1 km into atmosphere dropped
* Concern over lack of governing rules, technology patent
* Test could have given further insight into geo-engineering
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, May 16 British scientists have abandoned
an experiment to test the possibility of spraying particles into
the upper atmosphere to stem global warming, largely due to
concerns over a patent for some of the technology, the project's
Scientists and engineers from the universities of Bristol,
Cambridge and Oxford are behind a three-year, 1.6 million pound
($2.5 million) geo-engineering project called Stratospheric
Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE).
They had intended to pump water through a 1 km hosepipe into
an air balloon to test the engineering design and the effects of
wind before scaling up gradually to a potential full-scale
balloon project, 20 km high, that would use sulphates and
aerosol particles instead of water.
"The decision to call off the experiment was made by all the
project partners in agreement," Matt Watson, lead scientist on
the SPICE project, said on Wednesday.
The overall project, funded by UK research councils, will
continue with its aim to assess the feasibility of so-called
solar radiation management (SRM) by mimicking volcanoes when
they erupt, which can have both a cooling and warming effect on
the earth's atmosphere.
SRM works on the assumption that some eruptions expel
particles into the upper atmosphere, bouncing some of the sun's
energy back into space and thereby cooling the earth.
The controversial experiment had already been pushed back in
October last year for six months due to the need for further
Supporters say research into geo-engineering schemes - like
aerosol injection, mirrors in space to deflect the sun and giant
devices to trap carbon dioxide - is needed as the world might
need temporary fixes in the future to tackle the dangerous
impacts of climate change.
Most such solutions are decades away from being established
at large scale. Critics say they are too costly, potentially
harmful, have no international rules governing them and they
divert attention from measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
LACK OF RULES
Watson said one reason for the cancellation was the lack of
rules governing such geoengineering experiments.
"Most experts agree that governance architecture is needed
and to me personally, a technology demonstrator, even a benign
1/20 scale model feels somewhat premature," he said, adding that
the views expressed were his own.
Another reason was a patent application, describing some of
the technology, which was filed before the SPICE project was
proposed. UK funding bodies require those applying for grants to
declare potential conflicts of interest.
"The details of this application were only reported to the
project team a year into the project lifetime and caused many
members, including me, significant discomfort," he said.
Although the bigger project will continue in the laboratory,
other scientists were disappointed by the cancellation of the
balloon experiment as it could have provided further insight
into the feasibility of SRM.
"The vast majority of the proposed SPICE experiment is
critical research that will help us understand the potential
utility and possible dangers of geoengineering with aerosols. It
is very important that this research continues," said Jane Long,
at the U.S.-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
(Editing by Anthony Barker)