Context: The concept of marine cloud brightening is gaining prominence recently as a tactic for addressing extreme ocean heat and as a way to reduce coral bleaching and safeguard marine ecosystems.
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What is Marine Cloud Brightening?
The concept of cloud brightening can be traced back to British cloud physicist John Latham, who introduced the idea in 1990 to control global warming by modifying the Earth’s energy balance.
Latham’s calculations indicated that enhancing cloud brightness over vulnerable ocean regions could offset the warming resulting from a doubling of pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Mechanism of Marine Cloud Brightening:
In clean maritime air, clouds primarily form from sulfates and sea salt crystals. They are relatively scarce, leading to larger droplets with lower light reflection.
Marine cloud brightening (MCB) seeks to boost marine cloud reflectivity (albedo), making clouds whiter and brighter.
- It involves using water cannons or specialized vessels to release fine sea water droplets into the atmosphere.
- As these droplets evaporate, they leave behind salt particles.
- These particles serve as cloud condensation nuclei.
- They foster the formation of denser, brighter clouds.
MCB has the potential to lower sea surface temperatures in targeted areas. Also potentially reducing the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events.
Researchers are exploring the viability of MCB for the Great Barrier Reef through modeling studies and small-scale experiments.
Challenges and Risks Associated with MCB:
Technical Feasibility: MCB entails large-scale spraying of seawater into the atmosphere at significant altitudes, posing engineering challenges related to design, cost, maintenance, and operation of the spraying devices.
Environmental Impacts: Alterations in cloud patterns and precipitation due to MCB could affect regional climate and hydrological cycles, potentially causing unintended consequences like droughts or floods.
Ethical Issues: MCB raises ethical dilemmas about human intervention in natural processes and the governance and decision-making processes surrounding its implementation.
Moral Hazard: MCB might lead to complacency among policymakers and the public, diminishing their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.
What is Coral Bleaching?
Coral bleaching is a phenomenon where corals, typically vibrant and colorful, lose their color and turn white due to stress. This is often caused by elevated sea temperatures.
Coral bleaching weakens the corals, making them more susceptible to disease. Thus can lead to their death if the stress continues.
MCB (Marine Cloud Brightening) is still in the early stages of research and development. It requires additional studies to assess its feasibility, efficacy, impacts, risks, and governance. It is essential to recognize that MCB is not a standalone solution but a potential complementary measure. Thus to help coral reefs confront extreme heat stress in the short term. MCB should be integrated into a comprehensive approach. It includes conservation, restoration, adaptation, and innovation to safeguard coral reefs from the impacts of climate change.
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