Could Tiny Bubbles Cool the Planet? – ScienceNOW

Call me a skeptic, but this just sounds crazy.

Brighten the oceans by making billions of tiny bubbles. And what about the marine life that is now plunged into shadow? Changed ocean chemistry? International agreements about cost and location? “Unknown unknowns?”

What if we stop one day?

Are we ready to bet the biosphere and our civilization on new and extreme technologies? If anyone thinks “hell yeah, we can do anything!” then why can’t we just replace our energy sources with non-carbon emitting ones?

Oh yeah, and what about the other carbon dioxide problem?

19 thoughts on “Could Tiny Bubbles Cool the Planet? – ScienceNOW

  1. That does sound crazy. But what about creating a bunch of artificial islands with albedo close to 1.0? You would need perhaps a thousand islands the size of the biggest artificial island around, but I think it’s doable in principle.

    I realize that it’s not just about temperature, but at some point I expect humans will be scrambling for solutions and might have no choice but to resort to engineering.


  2. I am glad someone is thinking of crazy alternatives to reducing CO2. It is true that most (all?) of these ideas are not going to work, but there is a small chance that one does become a viable alternative, or more likely a last ditch effort to avoid hitting a tipping point.

    Still cutting CO2 is by far the most sensible thing to do… it is a shame that so many people seem unwilling to even try


  3. you must realise that things will come to this, in the end. panicky measures that quite possibly won’t work or will land us in other unintended hot water… or, save the day, if only for a while.

    it seems to be in the nature of our beings, that humankind tends to hobble on with the decision-making half a mile after the accident, not before. planning for the last war, not the next one.

    smart thing would be to go over en masse to carbon neutral, at the very least, and research all we can into removing carbon from the atmos-/biosphere and alternative energy sources. but that requires a political structure world-wide that simply is not there and won’t ever be.

    i’m horrified by the thought that we might need geo-engineering in our not too distant future to help extend the survival of our species on this planet, but i really see no option but to examine every possibility. i believe we ARE going to need it.


  4. I wonder to what extent these bubbles might accelerate uptake of CO2 in the oceans, reducing the atmospheric concentration somewhat but adding to acidification.


  5. i believe we ARE going to need it.

    I expect you’ll hear from Crakar on this, anja. This is one of his favorite straw men: “AGW believers promote geo-engineering! This proves the theory is untrue!”


  6. How about we first mandate white roofs on buildings and houses, and white tops on cars and trucks? That might actually be doable.


  7. Jim @7: Because for people in climates where heating rather than cooling is the dominant expense (that would include me), the passive solar heating from having a dark roof reduces the amount of energy needed to heat the house. Your solution works well in places like California where people need more cooling than heating. My annual home air conditioning bill is zero, because I don’t have one, and it isn’t really necessary here.


  8. As a way to combat global warming, effects on ocean ecologies could get pretty bad…

    It does seem like a good way conserve water in inland storage reservoirs whose main loss is through evaporation, though.


  9. The bubble-albedo effect is certainly worth researching, both for feasibility and for adverse effects. Off the top of my head, I’d guess it’s a better Geo-Eng strategy than SO2.

    However, we have to hold down carbon emissions because if we don’t, there will be mass extinctions in the oceans from decreasing pH. So any Geo-Eng that isn’t carbon-sequestrating can only be a short-term emergency measure.

    White rooftops (and vehicle tops) are the best approach to albedo. Absolutely, people at high latitudes can keep dark roofs if they want. But passive heating is better achieved via windows. With good insulation, the heat from cooking, lighting, and a few windows is all you need. At 45 degrees North, I’m *definitely* in “white roof is better” territory, and I’m planning to do just that in the next couple of months. Today I’m installing our new, insulating window blinds.

    Oh yeah, “blacktop” should be replaced by “greytop”. One can’t lighten the roads too much because it becomes a vision hazard, but there is no reason our roads and parking lots can’t be considerably lighter than many currently are. And parking lots should have shade trees…


  10. Getting just a little more sophisticated, how about developing a paint, roofing material, whatever, which is light when warm and dark when cold?

    I saw a study where trees in the parking lot increases a store’s income. Near me, a WalMart has been rebuilt as a Super WalMart, with lots of new big trees planted in the parking lot.


  11. Jim @11, I had seen a paper a few year back (sorry I don’t have a ref), where the Chinese were experimenting with just that. Actually it is claimed that the amount of heat gained from insolation on winter roofs is pretty minimal. When I lived in a cold snowy climate I think I woulda been warmer with a white roof -because that would have preserved natures free insulation (snow) longer.

    In any case it does sound intriging. I see no way we are going to avoid a doubling (560ppm) or worse. We could counter the first order effect (global heating) via an average increase in albedo of only a percent or two, so it doesn’t take a huge change if it is applied over a large area. I’d much rather see ground level albedo interventions than dumping SO2 into the stratosphere. At least this one could be switched off almost instantaneously if it were found to be worse than not doing it. Obviously not pumping out CO2 is the preferred solution. But our species is too greedy and shortsighted to do that. We will be stuck with some sorts of geoengineering. Might as well research them so we can choose the least objectionable ones.


  12. from the article:

    If the water is too clean, the bubbles might not last long enough to be effectively spread over large areas, Seitz says.

    Great! We just have to make sure the oceans are thoroughly trashed up, then it should work just fine!


  13. I get the impression that we have been pretty successful in modifying the ocean such that the bubbles would persist.


  14. Here’s a thought. I’m not sure why no-one has suggested it so far.

    Instead of coming up with a bunch of crazy schemes, which could have potentially disasterous consequences for the ecosystem, let’s STOP EMITTING SO MUCH CO2!


  15. re post 6,

    They say the key to comedy is timing Skip so i might be a bit late in responding. However i dont recall ever saying “AGW believers promote geo-engineering! This proves the theory is untrue!” In fact the statement would suggest the opposite.

    Having said that i do find this whole topic rather comical, post 16 seems to be the only one with an ounce of common sense.


  16. Oh my God, Crack is this the first and last time you are going to agree with Mandas wholeheartedly? Did you not realise that everything else he’s been saying to you these past months has more than “an ounce of common sense.”?

    Will wonders never cease….


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