SPICE project – weather modification for global temperature control

sky07:50 Thursday 8th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: All this week on the Breakfast Show we have been casting our minds back to 1989 and ‘Back to the Future 2’, which showed us a fictional 2015, the very year that we have arrived at now. In that year in the film you might remember the American weather service actually controlled and scheduled the weather. We’ve not quite reached that point in 2015 in the real world, just like many of the other inventions anticipated in the film. But could it one day be achieved? Well there is a research project called SPICE, which stands for Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering. It’s investigating whether releasing micro-particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays could reduce the earth’s temperature and rewind global warming. Dr Hugh Hunt is the Lecturer in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University who is working on the SPICE project. Hugh, this sounds quite high-tech. Explain how it actually works.

HUGH HUNT: Well, the idea is that we know that volcanic eruptions, for instance Mount Pinatubo in the 1990’s caused a global cooling of a degree or two, over a period of about a year. Now if we wanted to cool the planet, if carbon reductions don’t take effect or we don’t do them, then we might want to cool the planet. By putting particles high up into the stratosphere, up at about 20 kilometres, which is twice as high as aircraft normally fly, …
DOTTY MCLEOD: So how do we do it? Can we rely on friendly volcanoes?
HUGH HUNT: No. Well we can’t. And volcanoes are pretty messy and they kill lots of people.
DOTTY MCLEOD: They are aren’t they.
HUGH HUNT: So what we really want to find is ways of putting stuff up there as cleanly as possible. Now we could fly aircraft up there, but that’s actually not that clean. We’ve been looking at the possibility of spraying stuff up with a glorified garden hose, the hose held up by a helium-filled balloon. And a few of these balloons around the world could possibly do this, putting particles into the stratosphere and cooling the planet.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. Is this actually going to happen?
HUGH HUNT: Well we hope not, because we actually hope that we’ll pull our finger out and get on with the CO2 reductions, because whatever happens we have to do that. For the long term well being of our planet we’ve got to reduce our CO2 emissions. And if we do that in the next ten or twenty years then that would be great, and maybe we won’t have to do any of this so-called geo-engineering. But if we do too little too late, then we’re almost certainly going to be thinking about geo-engineering.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Sounds quite drastic. How much would this cost?
HUGH HUNT: Well pretty cheap quite possibly, which is a bit frustrating, because it means that governments quite possibly will say oh well, here’s a cheap get out of jail back up option, and it must not be seen as a back up option. I like to think, is chemotherapy a back up option for heavy smoking. And you think no it’s not. But we’ve got to be thinking positively and say we don’t ever want to use that back up option. We don’t want to use the parachutes or the life jackets. In our aircraft we’re told how to use them, but we just don’t want to use them.
DOTTY MCLEOD:┬áSure. That’s Dr Hugh Hunt. Fascinating. It’s a fascinating idea. He’s a Lecturer in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University, and he works on the SPICE project.