How Can Brightening Clouds Curb Climate Change? Behind Marine Cloud Brightening

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Sep. 9 2021, Published 3:28 p.m. ET

Cloud Brightening
Source: Getty Images

Most weather events are naturally occurring, though climate change has started influencing them tremendously. Global warming strengthens storms, and tends to be the root cause of droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and beyond. However, scientists have started looking to manipulate weather patterns — earlier this year, researchers created artificial rainstorms in Dubai to cool things down. Now, scientists are working to brighten clouds to curb climate change.

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"The research we’re conducing will also help us better understand processes that currently the source of the leading uncertainty in how humans are driving climate change," reads a blog post from the project, titled Marine Cloud Brightening Project. "... namely, how pollution aerosol particles affect clouds and climate."

Reflect Sunlight
Source: Getty Images
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How would brightening clouds curb climate change?

The concept of brightening clouds is known as marine cloud brightening. It was first discovered that white surfaces reflect the sun's rays in 1991, when the Philippines' Mount Pinatubo erupted, according to The BBC. A massive particle cloud formed, basically acting as a sun shield, as it cooled the planet's average temperature by 0.6 degrees Celsius (or about 33 degrees Fahrenheit) that year. To mimic this effect, a Peruvian glacier was going to be painted white to replace melting glaciers 20 years later in 2010.

At one point, scientists also considered sending mirrors to space to orbit the earth, but these resolutions weren't easy or long-term. And although sea ice is a natural reflector, it's rapidly melting with the ongoing effects of global warming. Clouds are yet another natural reflector, and currently, they reflect 30 percent of the sun's rays. However, scientists think clouds could be reflecting more, which is why they've turned to endeavors such as the Marine Cloud Brightening Project.

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What is the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, and what does it involve?

The Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which is run by Washington University, works to whiten clouds. According to IEEE Spectrum, researchers realized that when ships travel, they leave behind "ship tracks," or salty white clouds. They rise and brighten low-lying stratocumulus clouds, which causes them to reflect far more sunlight back into space than others. That's why is scientists are looking to add more sea salt to low marine clouds, to cool rising temperatures as a result.

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To make this work, seawater would be purposely sprayed up from ships to dry in the air, and form small salt particles that would rise to the clouds. They would act as cloud droplet seeds, increasing salt mass in the atmosphere. Scientists hope that doing this would brighten clouds by at least 5 to 10 percent, to send more sunlight back into space than the average cloud. If you were present on planet Earth for the 2021 heat waves, or the COVID-19 pandemic, you would understand why this is such a big deal.

Getting involved with natural happenings like these may sound somewhat questionable or unnatural, but something has to be done if we want planet Earth to continue existing as she is, for at least another 10 years. It's a solid addition to transitioning from non-renewable fuel and lowering our impact as humans.

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