Is Man Trying to Play God? Cloud Brightening Project Tests Tool to Cool Planet

Aqua Metrology Systems' Armand Neukermans, 73, background left, and engineer Jack Foster, 79, right, check the operations of a cloud condensation nuclei droplet spraying system prototype during a test to measure droplet particles at Aqua Metrology Systems in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching ) RELATED STORIES
Aqua Metrology Systems’ Armand Neukermans, 73, background left, and engineer Jack Foster, 79, right, check the operations of a cloud condensation nuclei droplet spraying system prototype during a test to measure droplet particles at Aqua Metrology Systems in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )
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A team of elder Silicon Valley scientists is building an audacious device that might solve one of humanity’s most profound dilemmas — a “cloud whitener” designed to cool a warming planet.

The men — retired physicists, engineers, chemists and computer experts from some of Silicon Valley’s top tech companies — have been meeting four days a week for seven years in the Sunnyvale lab of the Marine Cloud Brightening Project to design a tool that creates perfectly suspended droplets of water resembling fog.

Their goal is to launch the nation’s first open-air field trial of controversial “geoengineering” at a still-unidentified site in Moss Landing. There, they would test the ability of an energy-efficient machine to hurl tiny seawater droplets into a graceful trajectory — the first step of a research project to boost the brightness of clouds to reflect rays of sunlight back into space.

“We are interested in an insurance policy for global warming,” said Jack Foster, 79, a physicist and laser pioneer. “We are not interested in deploying it unless it’s necessary. But we’d like to have something available, so we know what works and what doesn’t work.”

The effort to conduct even a small-scale test — overseen by the University of Washington, which has numerous experts in atmospheric science — represents a dramatic shift in thinking in the scientific community, which until recently resisted conversations about deliberate manipulation of the climate.

The reason for the change: There is scientific consensus that even if the world succeeds in shifting away from fossil fuels, warming of the planet is inevitable — and it may have catastrophic consequences.

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Source: Contra Costa Times | Lisa M. Krieger lkrieger@mercurynews.com

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