Introducing the StratoShield

We’ve been working on some ideas related to climate change, as a kind of backup plan in case human effort to curb emissions don’t succeed fast enough to prevent devastating ecological damage. One of the ideas that has captured our imagination is replicating the way volcanoes have at times brought down the temperature of the planet by erupting sulfur dioxide particles up into the stratosphere. We’ve invented a “hose to the sky” we call the StratoShield, which is a comparatively cost effective way to do this. The invention is profiled in SuperFreakonomics and we’re hoping to have some scientific discussion about its potential.

HD quality m4v.

Stratoshield White PaperFor the first time we’ve got some technical details to share publicly. Please take a look at this StratoShield White Paper if you’d like to know more.

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  1. Posted October 26, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I was impressed with this simple solution… but in all the data presented… it mentions nothing about how much ice will form if this works too well. As I understand it there is already 1 to 2 miles of ice collecting on the poles. By cooling the pole it would form more ice and stay there! I know your simulation shows the cooling effect but add to those permitters an ice accumulation factor of 1 inch each year that doesn’t go away – then what happens? If this is implemented then would this change the depth of the ice and might cause a magnet change of the poles pre-maturely literally turning the world upside down? I don’t recall this being part of that simulation?

    As an alternative why not use this system to also re-seed the “Ozone Layer”? Then again who would pay for it? Unless you had every country contributing to this effort – we’re all in this together or we die together!

  2. Posted November 6, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Will this degree of solar block’age have any negative impacts on plants and other organisms that depend on the sun for energy? Clearly this is just a temporizing solution because if we don’t simultaneously significantly reduce carbon emissions then as time passes we’ll need to pump more sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block out more sun like…where does that eventually lead us?

  3. Posted November 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I was fascinated by the interview with Nathan Myhrvold that I listened to on public radio yesterday. However, I was wondering, why bother with trying to have a long tube lined up with a industrial smoke stack when there may be an even simpler solution. Why not take a large balloon, coat the outside of the balloon with sulphur dioxide and a binder that would react with ultraviolet radiation that would allow for a gradual release into the atmosphere (silver chloride?), Then all you would have to do is send the balloon up and allow the sun to react with the coating on the balloon and disperse the sulphur dioxide through photo-oxidation.

  4. Jerry Toman
    Posted November 9, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    We, the Canadians and the Europeans fly a lot of commercial aircraft farther north than 45 degrees at or near the stratosphere. I trust there is a plan underway to use these aircraft in a pilot study to test some of IVs cloud-formation and cooling theories, either by spraying SO2 from them or by using fuels with higher levels of sulfur compounds. Should the NW passage open up, we could also use commercial steamships.

    Some day we may have to rely on this proven mechanism should some unexpected glitches arise in the Stratoshield plan which relies on high-flying hoses, pumps and blimps.

    Alternatively, we could develop a local plan to raise additional water vapor to cloud-forming altitude and create reflective cloud cover without (necessarily) relying on sulfur compounds.

  5. Crust
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    According to Gavin Schmidt, Pinatubo put around 20 million tons of SO2 into the stratosphere. The chart “Volcanic SO2 loading” here seems to confirm that (at least assuming most of it went into the stratosphere rather than staying in the troposphere). You’re talking about an annual number (100,000 tons) that is a factor of 200 less. Why do you think that would be enough?

  6. John
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I finished reading Freakonomics yesterday and have marked up the margins of my book on the IV pages! I saw a similar comment to my idea by Jerry Toman. It appears we can increase the sulfur dioxide levels by a change in the fuel composition and re-tuning of jet aircraft engines.

    This way the various high flying commercial and military aircraft fleets automatically distribute it at the 35000-45000 foot level. Is this high enough to have impact?

    It would also be easy to monitor how much gets distributed, and make adjustments to the fuel composition as fine tuning is required.

    I love the idea of the lab without boundaries. I have been filling my poor overflowing garage with the type of (smaller scale) machines to enable the prototyping of ideas.

  7. John
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I was also wondering if some kind of peristaltic pump could be used in which the hose itself is a pump. Pressure lines and control electronics/valves could push the contents skyward.

  8. Sarat
    Posted December 19, 2009 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    As you pump more and more CO2 to atmosphere and less light (and heat), Following things would happen

    # Water cycle : Less heat, less light , less evaporation, less rain and snow fall
    # Air : More CO2 in the atmosphere, plants can use it but water shortage and heat and light shortage
    # As we gather more CO2, sea surface would absorb more and what it does with the conveyor belt is anybody’s guess

    I would request the IV team to think about how capturing CO2, Methane from atmosphere can help. Do plants generate electricity by absorbing sunlight ? they do generate chemical energy(hydrocarbons) but then…what lies beyond ?

  9. Bahram
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    The V shaped balloons for bouyancy appears to have a cylindrical cross section.
    Perhaps it would be better to have an aerofoil cross section, so as to generate lift from
    the jet stream and reduce the load on the helium balloons.

  10. Paul Coelho
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Is this currently a “live” programme with funding or just interesting conceptual discussions. I would be keen to get involved in moving this forward if this is the stage we are at.

  11. Aner Gelman
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Dear IV,
    I read about your solution in SuferFreakonimics and I have a small question which bothers me about the solution which I was hoping you can clear up.
    As stated in the book and also in the White Paper published here, the aerosol’s effect is supposed to decline\wear-off in about a year or two, which sounds ok. My problem is, what happens if we reach a steady state with this working and then a volcano (like the one from 91) were to erupt? This will cause to magnify the aerosol’s effect and might put into “overdrive” causing a much worse effect on climate if we had not used the aerosol. If, from your understandings this effect is neglect able and\or we can anticipate such a volcano’s eruption before hand than I wish you the best of luck, but otherwise have you thought of such a scenario and have a plan in such a case?

  12. Taroliese J. Rhodes
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    Canada complained about SO2 being dumped by the US into the atmosphere and it was killing their fish.
    We removed the SO2 which solved the problem. Not long thereafter we started seeing glaciers melting.the amount of coal they brought in could be measured by five mile trainloads every day. Did we some how unbalanced the weather pattern. Considering the winds aloft pattern have been in control up to this time the condition could be wide spread,
    J have pictures of Hawaii showin that wild Volcano releasing SO2 by the thousands of tons. This produces a rainfall of four hundred inches a year. The hard rocks in the area have vains of Iron in them. The water and SO2 are reacting with the Iron and it is causing the rocks to crumble. One day there will be a Hugh landslide and there will be waves seven hundred feet high.
    Why not give this system some sane and com thought. Given time it will settle down and we may get a new distribution of our rain fall.Why not build a Chamber and introduce the affected gases to see what the studies of light through these chemicals is and go from there.We know when the dew point falls that this causes the water to be released in the form of Rain. two decks of clouds can produce water very nicely. One drop gets another. Just a few degrees of temp drop can trigger a lot of water.
    Water distributed over fires just heats the water and does nothing but help put the fire out. If we can do things to affect the weather there may be a chance of one day controlling a lot of our weather.
    I was begining to think that there was no one around who could get a handle on this but now I have high hopes. I thank you so much for what you are dooing.

  13. Fergus
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    What will the adverse effects be from the amount of sulphur you are planning to pump into the atmosphere?

    • Katie Miller
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      We are not actually “planning” to do anything. The Stratoshield is an invention that requires further research. We are hoping the research community will take an interest and work to answer some of these questions. That said, the Stratoshield works the same way as a volcano, which can project sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Coal burning power plants emit sulfur dioxide as well, but not at a high enough altitude to have the positive effects of the Stratoshield. Ideally, we would just redirect emissions from a coal burning power plant so that no additional sulfur dioxide is put into our atmosphere. We’d just be using it in a smarter way.

  14. Sid
    Posted December 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m very sceptical of this idea. Sulfur Dioxide is considered a major air pollutant and toxin. Climate is one of the trickiest issues for science because there are simply so many factors at play which you can’t all simulate in a lab.

    Chances are you’re going to overlook some crucial factor and make things worse.

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