Cambridge scientists are building a new research centre to develop radical ways to ‘save the Earth’

The University of Cambridge is building a radical new centre designed to explore potential ways of fighting climate change.  

The Centre for Climate Repair will explore radical geoengineering schemes designed to directly tackle the effects of climate change. 

Among such schemes being considered are the spraying of salt into clouds in order to make them reflect more warming sunlight back into space.

Others imagine the extraction of atmospheric carbon dioxide for use as fuel, or ocean fertilisation to get more of the gas taken up by the seas.

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The University of Cambridge's is building a Centre for Climate Repair to explore radical solutions to combat humanity's harmful changes to the Earth's climate (stock image)

The University of Cambridge's is building a Centre for Climate Repair to explore radical solutions to combat humanity's harmful changes to the Earth's climate (stock image)

The University of Cambridge’s is building a Centre for Climate Repair to explore radical solutions to combat humanity’s harmful changes to the Earth’s climate (stock image)

The research lab is being planned in response to fears that our current approaches to minimise the emission of harmful greenhouse gases will not be enough on their own to prevent catastrophic and irreversible changes to the Earth’s climate.

The mandate of the Centre for Climate Repair will be to ‘solve the climate problem’, University of Cambridge climate scientist Emily Shuckburgh told the BBC.

‘It has to be. And we can’t fail on it,’ she added.

When complete, the centre will be the first of its kind in the world to focus exclusively on reducing carbon emissions and testing radical geoengineering concepts that could be used to try and reverse changes to the climate.

Areas for potential investigation include seeding clouds with salt to make them reflect more sunlight away from the Earth and fertilising the world’s oceans to try and force them to take up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

‘What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years,’ centre coordinator and former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir David King said.

‘There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue,’ he added. 

The Centre for Climate Repair is a part of the University of Cambridge’s Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, which Dr Shuckburgh is leading.

‘This really is one of the most important challenges of our time,’ she said.

‘We know we need to be responding to it with all our efforts.’ 

The centre will bring together researchers from various disciplines — not only climate researchers but also engineers and social scientists.

One geoengineering proposal the new centre may consider involves seeding clouds with salt — sprayed up into the air from unmanned, ocean-going vessels (pictured) — in order to make the clouds more reflective and send warming sunlight back out into space

One geoengineering proposal the new centre may consider involves seeding clouds with salt — sprayed up into the air from unmanned, ocean-going vessels (pictured) — in order to make the clouds more reflective and send warming sunlight back out into space

One geoengineering proposal the new centre may consider involves seeding clouds with salt — sprayed up into the air from unmanned, ocean-going vessels (pictured) — in order to make the clouds more reflective and send warming sunlight back out into space

WHAT IS THE CENTRE FOR CLIMATE REPAIR?

The Centre for Climate Repair, to be located in Cambridge, will explore radical geoengineering schemes to directly tackle the effects of climate change.

When complete, the centre will be the first of its kind in the world. 

It is a part of the University of Cambridge’s Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, which is being led by Dr Emily Shuckburgh.

The project is being coordinated by former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir David King.

The centre will bring together researchers from various disciplines — not only climate researchers but also engineers and social scientists.

The lab is a response to fears that our current approaches to minimise the emission of harmful greenhouse gases will not be enough on their own to prevent catastrophic and irreversible changes to the Earth’s climate.

While the various geoengineering schemes that have been proposed to date all bear potential drawbacks, it is worth thoroughly evaluating them and seeing if downsides might be addressed, said University of Cambridge physicist Peter Wadhams. 

‘If we reduce our emissions, all we are doing is making the global climate warmer a bit more slowly,’ he said.

‘That is no good because it’s already too warm and we have already got too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.’

In contrast, there are climate repairing geoengineering schemes that have the potential to actually remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

‘We can get the level down below what it is now and actually cool the climate bringing it back to what it was before global warming,’ Professor Wadhams added.

One of the concepts the centre could explore is called carbon capture and utilisation, which is being developed by University of Sheffield chemist Peter Styring.

The idea is similar to carbon capture and storage, in which carbon dioxide would be extracted from the exhausts of power stations and factories and then safely stored away underground, but would instead see carbon emissions made into fuel.

Professor Styring has teamed up with Tata Steel Europe Ltd to pilot the concept at the company’s steelworks in Port Talbot, South Wales.

‘We have a source of hydrogen, we have a source of carbon dioxide, we have a source of heat and we have a source of renewable electricity from the plant,’ Professor Styring said.

‘We’re going to harness all those and we’re going to make synthetic fuels,’ he added.

Another geoengineering proposal involves seeding clouds with salt, sprayed up into the air from unmanned, ocean-going vessels, in order to make the clouds more reflective and send warming sunlight back out into space.

Other scientists have suggested that dumping iron salts into the sea to promote the growth of plankton could help oceans take in more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

However, this concept has been met by scepticism from some researchers, who claim that plankton could never use enough of the greenhouse gas to make the scheme worthwhile and could instead damage ocean ecosystems.

WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF GEOENGINEERING STRATEGIES?

Scientists have proposed all sorts of solutions to fight climate change, including a number of controversial geoengineering strategies.

Among the many include: 

Afforestation: This technique would irrigate deserts, such as those in Australia and North Africa, to plant millions of trees that could absorb carbon dioxide.

Drawback: This vegetation would also draw in sunlight that the deserts currently reflect back into space, and so contribute to global warming.

Scientists have proposed all sorts of solutions to fight climate change. File photo

Scientists have proposed all sorts of solutions to fight climate change. File photo

Scientists have proposed all sorts of solutions to fight climate change. File photo

Artificial ocean upwelling: Engineers would use long pipes to pump cold, nutrient-rich water upward to cool ocean-surface waters.

Drawback: If this process ever stopped it could cause oceans to rebalance their heat levels and rapidly change the climate.

Ocean alkalinisation: This involves heaping lime into the ocean to chemically increase the absorption of carbon dioxide.

Drawback: Study suggests it will have of little use in reducing global temperatures.

Ocean iron fertilisation: The method involves dumping iron into the oceans to improve the growth of photosynthetic organisms that can absorb carbon dioxide.

Drawback: Study suggests it will have of little use in reducing global temperatures.

Solar radiation management: This would reduce the amount of sunlight Earth receives, by shooting reflective sulphate-based aerosols into the atmosphere.

Drawback: Carbon dioxide would still build up in the atmosphere. 

 

 

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