Government Scientists Propose Plan to Dry Out the Stratosphere

Mop Up

A group of government scientists are suggesting a strategy to literally dehydrate the stratosphere to help cool the planet — while admitting that it'd only do so much.

In a press release, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained that the strategy, if built out, would work to a degree because water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Drying it out, so to speak, could cool the atmosphere and counteract the harmful warming effects of carbon dioxide.

Dubbed "intentional stratospheric dehydration" or ISD, this approach, as proposed by NOAA researchers at the agency's Chemical Sciences Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, involves "seeding" the wettest parts of the stratosphere with tiny "ice nuclei" particles to increase ice formation that would then fall to the ground hail-style.

Using super high altitude aircraft, these ice particles seem to operate much like other cloud-seeding efforts, except in this case, scientists are more interested in soaking up water rather than making it rain.

Ice Skating

In a new study published in the journal Science Advances. the NOAA scientists explain that "targeting only a small fraction of air [particles] in the region would be sufficient to achieve substantial removal of water" — which means that it wouldn't take a ton of ice-seeding endeavors to achieve the desired effect.

The researchers have pinpointed the Western Pacific Cold Point, an atmospheric region roughly the size of Australia, as being both the wettest and coldest point of the stratosphere, and therefore the best for their ISD efforts.

"In terms of effectiveness, the Western Pacific Cold Point is the ideal 'sweet spot,'" NOAA research physicist Joshua Schwarz, who also co-wrote the paper, said in the NOAA statement. "That's why our focus was there."

No (D)ice

While the idea is certainly intriguing, it's a long way from being a usable method of combatting climate change — especially because, as the researcher told USA Today, "we don't have a plan or the technology to do this."

In that same interview, Schwarz also clarified that this wouldn't affect carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and even ICD's cooling effects would represent a "very small shift in the other direction."

Indeed, in the very beginning of the NOAA's statement itself, the agency notes that drying the stratosphere would help cool the planet "only to a small degree."

Obviously, it's not happening right now because the technology isn't there yet — and if nothing else, as Schwarz said in the agency's statement, researching ICD and other methods like it "helps distinguish the possible from the impossible."

Climate change is a big enough deal that the world's greatest minds should explore every option — but maybe drying out the stratosphere shouldn't be on the top of their lists.

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