Past Forays into SRM Field Research and Implications for Future Governance (Case Study)

Doughty (2015) – Past Forays into SRM Field Research – Click for Download

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 16.17.24Outdoor field research self-identifying as, or closely related to Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technology have already been carried out by scientists.[1] Exploring these experiments illustrates the varying degrees to which scientists have wrestled with the ethical, social and environmental governance concerns that have been raised by many.[2] Exploring how these past outdoor research projects were carried out (or not, as is the case with SPICE) highlights the need for existing governance to be adapted to ensure that these concerns are addressed. This paper will look specifically at three examples of outdoor research from recent years:

  • Yuri Izrael’s solar radiation experiment carried out in Russia with an uncertain degree of scientific credibility and an unclear assessment process;
  • E-PEACE, an experiment which while not identifying as SRM resulted in clear implications for marine cloud brightening (MCB) technology post hoc;
  • The SPICE project’s cancelled balloon deployment experiment, whose “stagegate” process was interested in exploring a wide range of SRM governance issues.

As scientists develop proposals for future SRM experiments[3], these past projects provide key insights into the challenges that governance must navigate.

There are currently few governance frameworks which deal explicitly with SRM research. While international bodies for environmental protection exist, they tend to be geographically limited or based on particular issues, and would need to undergo considerable adaptation to apply to SRM field research.[4] National and regional governance mechanisms such as environmental impact assessments have been suggested as a potential governance mechanism for SRM experiments[5] (they are already required in the London Convention and Protocol for ocean fertilisation experiments).[6] The experiments examined here have relatively negligible environmental impacts and involve no climatic response. Proposed experiments for the immediate future are likely to carry similarly small environmental risk.[7] The challenge for governance of any future experimentation is to address the wide range of social and political concerns that have been pinpointed as well as any environmental impacts. These case studies illustrate that not all scientists are engaged with these questions, and that those who are face their own set of challenges.

The Yuri Izrael-led Solar Radiation Experiment

Reported in Mother Jones as the first example of an outdoor SRM field research[8], the experiment was conducted in August 2008, 300 miles south east of Moscow and involved spraying sulphuric aerosol into the troposphere in order to study its effect on solar radiation. The experiment was led by Yuri Izrael from the Institute of Global Change in Moscow, with a team of Russian scientists. While there is little available information on what prior assessment procedure took place, there has been no report of the experiment encountering any major obstructions either at a local, national or international level, or encountering any challenges from Environmental Non-Governmental Organisation (ENGOs).[9] The results of the experiment indicated, according to the team, that the scaled up technology has the potential to effectively counter global warming.[10] The experiment received comparatively little attention at the international level despite the results being published in a paper: “Field Experiment on Studying Solar Radiation Passing through Aerosol Layers”. Though the experiment has been criticised as lacking in scientific credibility,[11] the fact that it was carried out in the first place raises questions over how any future governance could prove effective operating within complex political spheres.

The researchers reportedly conducted model experiments before taking their research outdoors in order to examine whether there would be any negative environmental impact.[12] They came to the conclusion that since the project was not likely to have any detrimental impacts on the environment, it would be fine to proceed.[13] There are few information sources available on the experiment. An article in Wired Magazine[14] describes the experiment as having been conducted over a 2-square-mile area outside the city of Saratov on the Volga River- 300 miles southeast of Moscow- and that the helicopter and truck was provided by officials from the Russian Federation. Sulphuric aerosols were injected from the car chassis and helicopter at heights from 200 to 50m (troposphere rather than stratosphere), with two detectors on the ground measuring the solar radiation, wind velocity, temperature, humidity and pressure.[15] The paper by Izrael et al states that due to the weather conditions there was “a high degree of variability of the data obtained”.[16] Nevertheless, the paper ascertains that it is “principally possible to control solar radiation passing through artificially created aerosol formations in the atmosphere”, marking this as the first outdoor field work to promote SRM technology as a potentially effective option.

This experiment was carried out in a considerably different political climate to those examined in the North American and European contexts. Izrael, often described as having been a key scientific confidant of Prime Minister Putin[17] as well as a prominent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was the PI for this experiment. A renowned advocate of SRM technology and a skeptic of manmade climate change[18], he previously had published an open letter to Putin calling for SRM as an appropriate step against global warming, arguing; “in order to lower the temperature of the Earth by 1-2 degrees we need to pump about 600,000 tons of aerosol particles”.[19]

With Izrael having been such a strong supporter of SRM technology and the experiment having taken place in a relatively secretive state others have cast doubt over the scientific value of the experiment[20]. This lack of credibility seems to have lessened the impact and saliency of this experiment in the wider world. Nevertheless, it raises important issues for future SRM governance. An atmospheric chemist in Izrael’s institute stated that they were hoping to conduct larger experiments, possibly by using airplanes over large areas, assuring that this “would be a very local experiment over Russia, only over Russia”.[21]

The difficulty any governance mechanism would have to address is how to effectively cover national level experiments operating under limited levels of transparency. While the experiment’s SRM intentions were clearly stated, it underwent no international scrutiny process, with the research team reportedly not viewing any as necessary.[22] With Russian attitudes portrayed as relatively pro-geoengineering, some are concerned further experimentation could take place.[23] Debate over governance of SRM in western countries is ongoing[24], but currently international regulation can do little to stop secretive and geographically vast nations such as Russia carrying out atmospheric experiments. Even if a suitable international body was to set up restrictions there is no guarantee that countries that demonstrate scant regard for such treaties would uphold them. The most interesting factor about this experiment is that despite being the only experiment of the three that was fully carried out and which self-identified as SRM, it gained the least attention from opponents of experimentation. This raises important questions over how governance of research can operate when ethics and geographical locations can result in a lack of international transparency.

E-PEACE

The Eastern Pacific Emitted Aerosol Cloud Experiment (E-PEACE), conducted in August 2011, had no stated intention of examining SRM technology. Despite this, it led to data results with clear implications for marine cloud brightening (MCB).[25] Examining ship tracks’ interaction with clouds, the experiment used smoke generators to produce emissions comparable to ship tracks. Despite the team’s focus on cloud-aerosol interaction, the results also found that ship tracks have a significant impact on radiative forcing. This implication has received criticism from some SRM researchers who argue that experiments “engaged with geoengineering more obliquely” do not pay heed to the social and ethical considerations that others have and are engaged in.[26] E-PEACE has received almost no negative attention from the media or ENGOs, a stark contrast to the experiences of other projects such as SPICE and LOHAFEX which identified as geoengineering from the outset.[27]The experiment raises important questions over how governance could or should cover atmospheric research that has implications for SRM after it has taken place.

E-PEACE, led by PI Lynn Russell, and funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, sought to test three hypotheses, the third of which being that it is important to have giant cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) to initiate drizzle in clouds (previously proposed by Bruce Albrecht).[28] This was tested by using artificial salt (similar to that used for snow machines) dispersed from an airplane directly into clouds in order to see whether conditions could be created which would initiate drizzle, as well as using smoke generators on board a ship. The results of the research found that there are many conditions in the real atmosphere that are not well represented in the models, suggesting that global models had been estimating incorrectly the effect of particles.[29] The results also found that “smoke generators on board smaller ships could provide a net cooling effect, which could be used to offset some of the warming caused by ship CO2 emissions”[30]; thereby effectively crossing over into SRM research.

While E-PEACE, like other atmospheric experiments, has had relevance for SRM,[31] it complied with all necessary legal obligations asked of it, and was carried out off the coast of Monteray, with small and expected environmental impacts. The high level assessment process advocated and explored in the SPICE experiment was not conducted nor called for, as the project never set out to study SRM. Nevertheless, the results had relevance for geoengineering and this reinforces the importance of intentionality within SRM field work. [32]

E-PEACE has drawn some criticism in the media, with questions of whether it signifies “geoengineering research by another name”.[33] Some have gone as far as to argue that E-PEACE indicates that “unregulated (SRM) outdoor experimentation has already begun”.[34] Despite these criticisms, E-PEACE has been subject to significantly less negative attention than research that self-identifies as geoengineering[35], with most criticism hailing from scientific circles rather than the wider public.

Research in cloud-aerosol interaction and other atmospheric experimentation, such as weather modification, is normal practice in many different parts of the world and not considered as controversial as SRM. The challenge for governance is to ensure that SRM research is not able to sidestep the obligations which many are calling for by simply classifying itself in another discipline. To say that this was E-PEACE’s intention would be unfair to the researchers who were pursuing a legitimate scientific study, but their results are a warning sign for future governance highlighting the relative ease with which researchers could perhaps avoid SRM assessment processes. The struggle for governance is how to cover research which could transition into SRM (intentionally or not) at a later stage.

SPICE

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) field experiment was part of a larger research project to examine the feasibility and likely effects of SRM deployment[36], focusing on lab based evaluation of candidate particles, climate modelling and potential delivery systems. The project had a small outdoor field work component, with a proposed field experiment to test the feasibility of a balloon deployment system scheduled to take place in Norfolk in 2012. A scaled down version of a proposed balloon deployment method would be examined, spraying a relatively small amount of water from a 1km pipe.[37] While there was no serious environmental risk or any climatic impacts identified with the experiment, the team was keen to engage in wider social concerns, employing social scientists to conduct stakeholder engagement and exploring different methods of assessment.[38] It was this engagement, amongst other issues over intellectual property, which ultimately contributed to the field experiment being cancelled when the researchers were left feeling uncomfortable with what their experiment could signify.[39] SPICE demonstrates the challenges for governance in dictating how scientists should scope their assessment process and how to define what is considered acceptable outdoor SRM research.

Seeking to engage with the social concerns raised by many,[40] the SPICE team, with the assistance of scientific and NGO representatives, established a stagegate assessment process.[41] It was decided the experiment should involve both public and media engagement, and be “forward looking in scope” as well as tackling the environmental and legal aspects.[42] As the experiment was not planning on conducting any actual geoengineering, the environmental and legal aspects were relatively simple processes in comparison to ensuring the project was “forward looking”.[43] Matt Watson, the project PI, hoped the stagegate process would “stimulate debate”; to achieve this they sought to ensure their research was transparent, acknowledging there were areas they were uncomfortable with.[44]

The completed assessment conducted by the SPICE team resulted in an approximately 100-page document, half of which focused on environmental safety and the scientific technicalities.[45] The rest was described by Watson as more prospective, addressing issues such as: how people could use the technology, concepts and risk of technological lock in, where the field could be in 20 years, and how to engage with the media and stakeholders.[46] As part of this process the project team completed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), or as Watson remarked, “an exercise in why it wasn’t necessary to carry out an EIA”[47], alluding to the negligible environmental impacts predicted. Stakeholder engagement was conducted both locally and nationally, with results indicating that “almost all participants were willing to entertain the notion that the test-bed as an engineering test – a research opportunity – should be pursued”.[48] The team also held a press briefing, publically launching the proposed experiment at the national science festival in Bradford.

While the public engagement resulted in comparatively indifferent opinions on the experiment, the feedback from ENGOs was less than favourable. In retrospect, Watson has argued that this aspect of the engagement could have been handled better.[49] The ETC Group in particular was a vehement campaigner against the field test. Their “Hands Off Mother Earth” campaign fought hard for a cancellation of the project characterising it as the “Trojan Hose”- a distraction from important mitigation policies and a proponent of SRM deployment. [50] A number of environmental groups joined their campaign against the project, arguing that it was likely to contravene a decision by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to permit only “small-scale” field trials. Penning a letter to the UK government arguing this point, the ETC garnered the co-signing of fifty other ENGOs. [51] Despite the experiment predicting the smallest environmental impact of the three case studies, the negative campaigning witnessed by SPICE vastly overshadows that experienced by the other two.

The project was cancelled in May 2012 due largely to issues of governance and ownership, after encountering issues over intellectual property rights. Watson, claims the ENGO’s depicted the cancellation as SPICE having given into their pressure, arguing that this as an unfair representation, as they had always planned for the stagegate process to be a learning experience: “What is really frustrating is that these differing representations undermine the fact that we spent a lot of time agonising over these issues and wanting to ensure the experiment was done right”.[52] SPICE had sought to carry out an experiment that was reflexive and forward looking, engaged with difficult social and ethical questions. The results of this process left the team feeling “uncomfortable” with what the experiment could signify, and this, at least in part, led to the cancellation.[53]

While SPICE was transparent and represented no environmental risk it was still subject to substantial criticism, scepticism and outright opposition. Unlike the first two case studies, which for various reasons did not seek to engage in wide scale stakeholder engagement, SPICE was faced with the greatest level of opposition because of direct involvement in it. The cancellation of the field trial by the SPICE team has been considered by some as an example of “responsible self-governance in the absence of governmental oversight”.[54] As not all previous examples of outdoor research have been interested in taking on the same issues, it is for those who devise future governance frameworks to decide what the suitable parameters for any SRM assessment process may be.

Conclusion

These case studies demonstrate that researchers interested in exploring the myriad of social issues identified with SRM fieldwork have struggled to find an appropriate assessment process, while those who are less interested have carried out their research under little scrutiny. The E-PEACE experiment highlights the difficult challenge for SRM governance, no matter what form it adopts, in ensuring scientists (whether purposely or not) do not avoid wider concerns by how they define their experiments. In a similar vein, the solar radiation experiment witnessed in Russia highlights another issue not easily resolved: how can research taking place in countries that pay little heed to international regulation be governed? These first two case studies highlight the ways in which scientists can currently avoid engaging with the concerns addressed by others. The SPICE experiment raises a different question: how should researchers interested in pursuing responsible and transparent field work scope their assessment process? SPICE sought to take on this question, and was left feeling that the experiment should not go ahead. With a range of potential future SRM experiments proposed,[55] there is a need for future governance frameworks to meet these challenges.

 

Works Cited

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Black, R. 2012. “Geoengineering: Risks and Benefits.” BBC, August 24, sec. Science & Environment. Accessed Jan 28, 2015. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19371833.

Bodle, R. 2010. “Geoengineering and International Law: The Search for Common Legal Ground.” Tulsa Law Review 46: 305-322.

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Corner, A., N. Pidgeon, and K. Parkhill. 2012. “Perceptions of Geoengineering: Public Attitudes, Stakeholder Perspectives, and the Challenge of ‘Upstream’ Engagement.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 3(5): 451–66.

Dykema, J.A., D.W. Keith, J.G. Anderson, and D. Weisenstein. 2014. “Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment: A Small-Scale Experiment to Improve Understanding of the Risks of Solar Geoengineering.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 372(2031).

ETC Group. 2011. “Say No to the Trojan Hose.” Accessed January 28, 2015. Available at: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/say-no-trojan-hose

IMO (International Maritime Orgainzation) 2013. “Marine Geoengineering including Ocean Fertilization to be Regulated under Amendments to International Treaty.” Press Briefing, Oct 18. Available at: http://www.imo.org/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/Pages/45-marine-geoengieneering.aspx#.VM-4DSeUf_4

Izrael, Y.A., V. M. Zakharov, N. N. Petrov, A. G. Ryaboshapko, V. N. Ivanov, A. V. Savchenko, Yu V. Andreev, et al. 2010.“Field Studies of a Geo-Engineering Method of Maintaining a Modern Climate with Aerosol Particles.” Russian Meteorology and Hydrology 34(10): 635–38.

Keith, D.W., R. Duren, and D.G. MacMartin. 2014. “Field Experiments on Solar Geoengineering: Report of a Workshop Exploring a Representative Research Portfolio.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 372(2031).

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Pidgeon, N., K. Parkhill, A. Corner, and N. Vaughan. 2013. “Deliberating Stratospheric Aerosols for Climate Geoengineering and the SPICE Project.” Nature Climate Change 3(5): 451–57.

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Russell, L.M., A. Sorooshian, J. H. Seinfeld, B. A. Albrecht, A. Nenes, L. Ahlm, Y-C. Chen, M. Coggon, J. S. Craven, R. C. Flagan, A. A. Frossard, H. Jonsson, E. Jung, J. J. Lin, A. R. Metcalf, R. Modini, J. Mülmenstädt, G. Roberts, T. Shingler, S. Song, Z Wang, and A. Wonaschütz. 2013 “Eastern Pacific Emitted Aerosol Cloud Experiment.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 94: 709–729.

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Watson, M. 2011. “Testbed Delay.” The Reluctant Geoengineer, Weblog, 30 September. Accessed January 28, 2015. Available at: http://thereluctantgeoengineer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/testbed-delay.html

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[1] Welch et al. 2012

[2] For example, see Corner and Pidgeon 2010

[3] Keith et al. 2014

[4] Bodle 2010

[5] Ibid.

[6] IMO 2013

[7] Dykema et al. 2014

[8] Mooney 2009.

[9] Caviezel and Revermann 2014, 197

[10] Izrael et al. 2010

[11] Meleshko 2010

[12] Welch et al. 2012

[13] Ibid.

[14] Kintisch 2010

[15] Izrael et al. 2010

[16] Ibid.

[17] See Izrael’s biography at: http://heartland.org/yuri-izrael

[18] MosNews 2005

[19] Ibid.

[20] Meleshko et al. 2010

[21] Kintisch 2010

[22] Welch et al. 2010

[23] Lukacs et al. 2013

[24] For example, see the Climate Geoengineering Governance project at http://geoengineering-governance-research.org/

[25] Russell 2012

[26] Stilgoe et al. 2013

[27] Shackley 2013

[28] Albrecht 1989

[29] Russell et al. 2013

[30] Ibid.

[31] Keith

[32] Stilgoe et al. 2013; Robock 2012

[33] Black 2012

[34] Robock 2012

[35] For examples, see section on the SPICE Project (later in this study) and LOHAFEX, an ocean iron fertilization experiment (see Schiermeier 2009).

[36] See webpage of the SPICE project at: http://www.spice.ac.uk/about-us/aims-and-background/

[37] Pidgeon et al. 2013

[38] Corner et al. 2012

[39] Watson, personal communications, 2014

[40] Corner,and Pidgeon 2010

[41] Corner et al. 2012

[42] Watson, personal communications, 2014

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Parkhill and Pidgeon 2011

[49] Watson, personal communications, 2014

[50] ETC Group 2011

[51] Ibid.

[52] Watson, personal communications, 2014; see also Watson’s personal blog at: http://thereluctantgeoengineer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/testbed-delay.html

[53] Watson, personal communications, 2014

[54] Long et al. 2012

[55] Keith et al. 2014

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