That's one way to use outdated military infrastructure.

Feeling Salty

In an effort to halt the worst effects of climate change, scientists are experimenting with a device built atop a decommissioned aircraft carrier in the San Francisco Bay that would dim the Sun by salting the clouds.

Yes, you read that right — researchers from the University of Washington are, as the New York Times reports, seeking to introduce salt to the clouds over the ocean, which would theoretically deflect the Sun's light back upwards and keep the Earth below cooler.

While it's a somewhat outlandish gambit, it's not without scientific precedent. "Solar geoengineering," as the scientists behind the concept of sun-dimming call the burgeoning approach, has for years been theorized as a way to temporarily stall climate change while humans both try to figure out how to reverse its worst effects.

In particular, the UW experiment taking place aboard the USS Hornet is looking into what is known as "marine cloud brightening," which takes a similar approach to so-called "cloud seeding" by introducing tiny aerosol particles to clouds. Instead of seeking to make it rain, as cloud seeding does, however, cloud brightening aims to reflect solar radiation outward and back up. In UW's case, they're using salt as their aerosol of choice.

And they just fired it up for the first time. Per the NYT, they activated the spraying device that would be used to salt the clouds over the Pacific Ocean to make sure it could consistently output the plume of saline spray that would, as the experiments continue, need to make it up to the clouds to work.

Risky Wishes

While this concept is certainly intriguing, it's not without its detractors, which include both the US government and Greenpeace.

In a statement to the NYT, the White House — which has invested in other marine solar engineering research — distanced itself from the experiment aboard the Hornet, declaring that "the US government is not involved in the Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) experiment taking place in Alameda, CA, or anywhere else."

Greenpeace, meanwhile, is worried about what might happen if these sorts of technologies work too well.

"You could well be changing climatic patterns, not just over the sea, but over land as well," David Santillo, a senior scientist at Greenpeace International, told the newspaper. "This is a scary vision of the future that we should try and avoid at all costs."

As with other geoengineering proposals, perhaps the biggest issue with cloud brightening would be applying it at a large enough scale to make a difference. Given how fast we're still degrading the climate without doing much to fix it, however, the "every little bit helps" rationale could well apply here, too.

More on theoretical climate solutions: Government Scientists Propose Plan to Dry Out the Stratosphere

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