Bill Gates Funds Seawater Cloud Seeding, "the Most Benign Form of Geoengineering"

By Andrew Moseman | May 10, 2010 6:41 pm

cloud-seedingBill Gates is getting serious about geoengineering. Back in January, after the failure of governments at the Copenhagen Climate Change summit to do anything serious, the billionaire former head of Microsoft announced he’s give nearly $5 million of his fortune to fund research into geoengineering projects. Recently he announced his first concrete foray into the field: giving $300,000 to project that would spray seawater into the sky, seeding clouds that would hopefully block some of the sun’s UV rays.

The machines, developed by a San Francisco-based research group called Silver Lining, turn seawater into tiny particles that can be shot up over 3,000 feet in the air. The particles increase the density of clouds by increasing the amount of nuclei contained within. Silver Lining’s floating machines can suck up ten tons of water per second. If all goes well, Silver Lining plans to test the process with 10 ships spread throughout 3800 square miles of ocean [Inhabitat].

Most of the major geoengineering ideas that have been proposed—launching a reflective shield into space, artificial trees to pull carbon dioxide out of the air—are extremely expensive and difficult.

However, a study last year calculated that a fleet of 1,900 ships costing £5 billion (about $7.5 billion) could arrest the rise in temperature by criss-crossing the oceans and spraying seawater from tall funnels to whiten clouds and increase their reflectivity [The Times].

Unlike, say, seeding the sea with iron, seawater spraying doesn’t involve dumping additional material into the environment, so it would require less arduous permit-getting to test. And as opposed to the plans to put particulates in the clouds, seawater spraying would be easier to shut down and wouldn’t affect weather patters for quite as long.

Armand Neukermanns, who is leading the research, said that whitening clouds was “the most benign form of engineering” because, while it might alter rainfall, the effects would cease soon after the machines were switched off [The Times].

Related Content:
80beats: With $4.5 Million of Pocket Change, Bill Gates Funds Geoengineering Research
80beats: Bill Gates Patents a Device Aimed at Halting Hurricanes
80beats: Iron-Dumping Experiment Is a Bust: It Feeds Crustaceans, Doesn’t Trap Carbon
DISCOVER: 5 Most Radical Ways to Squelch a Climate Crisis (photo gallery)

Image: John McNeill

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • Nenad

    How about planting more trees?!


    It’s raining plankton, hallelujah, it’s raining plankton!

    “… artificial trees to pull carbon dioxide out of the air—are extremely expensive and difficult.” Hmmm, real trees are pretty cheap.

  • Frank

    Just imagine the unintended consequences of this endeavor, if it really works.

    Frank from AZ

  • nick

    Dear Frank,

    nebulous question. Could be anything from “rain” to “armageddon,” for an answer.

    At least this is one geoengineering scheme that doesn’t rely on more pollution as the answer.

  • JJ

    I already get enough rain and snow in my neck of the woods. Plus, doesn’t water vapor and cloud cover only contribute to global warming…?

  • Salty Dog

    Don’t these jokers realize that if you spray salt water in the air it will precipitate on land and poison the soil? They need to spray fresh water if they want to participate in this con game.

  • GeneQueen

    This video on cloud seeding made me chuckle… I hope you do too

  • John

    It is the acme of foolishness to think that for one we completely understand this complex system much less able to change it….

  • Apo

    The weather is such a complex and chaotic system that we can barely begin to predict the weather for next Tuesday – but we could somehow seed clouds on a mass scale and understand the potential outcomes?

  • Junior

    I can think of better ways to waste 5 million dollars.

  • amphiox

    Hmmm, real trees are pretty cheap.

    Not really, if you consider the additional things you have to do to ensure an environment optimal for the successful growth of those trees, the number you need to plant and care for, and the length of time (decades) it takes for them to reach peak efficiency.

    It is the acme of foolishness to think that for one we completely understand this complex system much less able to change it….

    There comes a time, when faced with an imminent threat, when we have to accept the reality of incomplete information, commit to action, get on with it, and take our chances.

    Have we reached that point yet? Probably not quite, but it’s getting close.

  • good grief

    This is a TERRIBLE IDEA.

    The sun = life for all living organisms on earth. What gives this guy the right to do this? Answer, he has none.

    Anybody who’s used his software knows he should NOT be allowed to geoengineer the earth.

  • Fear Fear

    can anyone say waterworld? lungs and gills for all!

  • carddan

    Cloud cover does reflect a portion of the sun’s rediation into space. Water vapor on the other hand, is a much more efficient greenhouse gas than CO2. Whether or not you believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, it is a leap to think we understand the balance between these two simple processes. The arrogance and hubris of some men is incredible.

    There are so many things wrong with this idea it is impressive.

  • Bruno Domingues

    I think that if you are not sure, do not mess with it.

    Lowering our albedo might seem a good idea now, but increased H2O in the atmosphere will also increase our greenhouse effect, since less IR radiation is escape to space, instead being radiated down.

    With one of these effect will be dominant? Yep, we are not sure. Don’t come telling that this study or that says so, that’s bull and we all know it.

    Does anyone still remember how late in the studies did the increased gases from permafrost losses got to be included in the sims? What are we forgetting this time?

    Truth is we have been playing with fire for some time now, and its starting to burn…
    … and trying to solve this the cheapest way is not going to work.

  • Henk

    so if we assume that what goes up, must come down.. and if we position a number of these craft along the west coast of a desert area (like Western Sahara and West Australia) would it also produce more rain in those arid areas?

    and would that also apply to the salt in the dispersed ocean water? or would a component of these contraptions take care of some sort of a desalination?

  • Z-Man

    Wow, That’s great. The majority of people will sit and do little to nothing. (Maybe just blog about it) But backing up your thoughts with money is always good place to start
    I’d suggest testing this out just West of Morocco. First build computer models of course. It would appear to me with the prevailing trade winds, northern Africa would get more rain. Historically this has happened…… And then we can grow trees.

  • JustMeDan

    Salt Water normally does not ever get into the atmosphere. Water vapor rises, but the salt is left behind in the ocean.

    Forcing salt water into the atmosphere will blanket the entire earth in a layer of salt, killing plant life all over the globe.

    Anyone that lives in colder climates where the put salt on the roadways can tell you what the effects salt has upon plants. And here they are wanting to spray salt over the entire earth.

    And there is no reason to test this out, as it has been tested for numerous years, the results are the same. SALT KILLS PLANT LIFE

    Where will we be after his “test” when all of the trees and food crops die? Sure, you can stop pumping salt into the atmosphere, but what will happen to all of the salt that has already been pumped up there and returned to earth in the rainfall?

    Here is a link to the Government of Alberta where they are referring to the salt tolerance of plants.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3303

  • Dzianis

    Such geoengineering projects have the questionable future, imho

  • eTesters

    anchor the fleet off galveston tx and wait for a south wind. then seed clouds and put out fires. build permanent set up and green texas.


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