from the world's big
A closer look into Harvard scientists' plan to block out the sun
The project involves a high-altitude balloon, tons of tiny particles and knowledge gained from a violent volcano eruption in 1991.
- Solar geoengineering aims to cool global temperatures by reflecting some of the sun's light back into space.
- The team plans to test how releasing particles at high altitudes affects a small part of the stratosphere.
- Solar geoengineering solutions such as this could be a relatively cheap way to curb global warming.
In March 1991, the second-largest volcano eruption of the 20th century occurred at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The blast proved toxic to the environment and deadly to hundreds of people in the area.
But its most far-reaching effect was the projection of some 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, where the particles reacted with water and eventually spread over the entire planet, creating a hazy layer that absorbed and scattered incoming sunlight. This resulted in spectacular sunsets, extraordinarily cold winters and wet summers, and, importantly, the cooling of the planet by about 1 degree Fahrenheit.
Now, a group of researchers at Harvard plan to mimic that effect in a new experiment designed to illuminate how scientists might someday use geoengineering technology to curb climate change. The project, called Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), involves sending a steerable balloon into the stratosphere, about 20 km above ground, and releasing small particles of chalk, or calcium carbonate.
Once released, the balloon will stick around for 24 hours to measure changes in aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry and light scattering in the area covered by the tiny particles, about 1 km by 100 meters.
The team hopes to learn more about the efficacy and risks of solar geoengineering, which aims to reflect some of the sun's light back into space.
"Computer modeling and laboratory work tell us some very useful things about solar geoengineering, but as with all other aspects of environmental science, computer models ultimately rest on observations of the real environment," they wrote on the project website. "Measuring the ways that aerosols alter stratospheric chemistry can, for example, improve the ability of global models to predict how large-scale geoengineering could possibly disrupt stratospheric ozone."
A relatively cheap way to control global warming
Two common proposals to combat climate change include carbon sequestration — capturing carbon and storing it in the earth's crust — and reducing global use of fossil fuels. However, both would be wildly expensive, even considering that the estimated costs of mass-scale carbon sequestration have dropped in recent years.
Solar geoengineering could prove to be a much cheaper option. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report estimated that releasing particles into the stratosphere could offset 1.5 °C of warming for just $1 billion to $10 billion per year.
The main concern is that we still don't really understand exactly how creating a hazy particle blanket over the planet would affect weather patterns, droughts and agriculture. After all, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption is thought to have influenced the 1993 floods along the Mississippi River and the drought in the Sahel region of Africa.But the hope is that experiments like SCoPEx, which is set to begin in 2019, can reflect some light on the viability of solar geoengineering.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is.
What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.