Things look grim off the coast of Queensland. Last year, amid an El Niño weather pattern presumably compounded by global warming, 20 percent of the Great Barrier Reef died and 90 percent was damaged. Then again, about half of the reef’s coral has died over the last three decades. Not everyone cares about such things, of course—just scuba enthusiasts and Australian tourist officials, plus ordinary individuals with a range of emotions extending beyond malice and narcissism.
In the face of such a depressing, intractable problem, ordinary individuals can cry tears of rage—or grasp at desperate technological hopes. Such hopes have included pumping cool water over the reef from adjacent ocean areas and breeding super-coral that can withstand all manner of human indignity. But the best idea of the lot, in the opinion of researchers from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney School of Geosciences, may be to station a fleet of ships over the reef. The ships will shoot tiny salt particles up at the cloud cover that hugs the Queensland coast. The salt particles will allow additional water droplets to form in the clouds—which, now bigger, will reflect more heat upward and out of the atmosphere. In short, the reef project would be a local application of the geoengineering fix known as cloud brightening.
As reported by James Temple in the MIT Technology Review, the whole thing is still very much on the drawing board—the researchers’ next task is to run computer models that will help determine if it’s worth trying. Some outside observers are very skeptical, and even the researchers aren’t exactly overselling the idea.
This reef project sounds pretty iffy. But it’s that or tears of rage.
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