Artificial volcanoes could stop heat waves

What with global warming definitely on the rise, we're going to start seeing more and more heat waves like the ones that made the last few weeks so miserable for all y'all who don't live on the West Coast, like me. One proposed idea to deal with the problem is a fake volcano, created by pumping large amounts of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere.

When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it pumped about 20 megatons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere, which cooled the entirety of Northern Europe by about four degrees Fahrenheit for the summer. "Hey," said climatologists, "that's handy, we should do that more often!" Rather than attempting to set off real volcanoes whenever it gets a bit toasty out, researchers from UCLA have been running the numbers on what it would take to set up a fake volcano to create the same effect over a localized area, and they think they might actually be able to get the idea to work.

According to computer models, releasing 30 micrograms per square meter of sulfur dioxide into the air resulted in a decrease in temperature of as much as 13 degrees Fahrenheit over the hottest part of the day. If you're counting, that's the difference between 87 degrees (which is bearable) and 100 degrees (which is not). Wow! Awesome, right? Why aren't we doing this every single day like the weather control systems in Star Trek!?

It probably will not shock you to learn that injecting a frack-ton of aerosols into the atmosphere is generally not a good thing to do if you care about the long-term health and happiness of Planet Earf. Yes, you might be able to break a localized heat wave, but doing so may very well cause a significant amount of damage to the ozone layer, while simultaneously screwing with the weather in unintended ways, like reducing rainfall downwind of the release.

In summary, the researchers say that they're pretty sure that this method would work like it's supposed to, but that actually going out and doing it raises "substantial concerns... Mitigation via reduction of fossil fuels remains preferable to considering geoengineering with sulfate aerosols." In other words, if we all just pollute less, the world will end up a better (and cooler) place for everyone involved. Less exciting than artificial volcanoes, for sure, but probably better advice to live by.

Paper, via SciAm

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