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Ear to the Ground

An Inconveniently Smelly Truth

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Posted on Aug 21, 2006
Sulfur may be the solution.
Illustration by Peter Scheer

A Nobel laureate has proposed shooting sulfur into the atmosphere as an emergency measure to curb global warming. The short-term fix would not solve the problem, but would buy some time by temporarily reflecting some of the sun’s energy away from the planet.


Wired News:

Crutzen published his proposal in the August issue of Climatic Change. He won the 1995 Nobel prize in chemistry for his work on the ozone layer.

When sulfur particles are released into the Earth’s atmosphere, they reflect solar radiation back into space much as large ice sheets in the Arctic do. Crutzen envisions lofting sulfur into the stratosphere on small balloon crafts, which will use artillery guns to release their smelly payload.

It’s a response, Crutzen writes, to the failure of international political efforts to establish carbon emission limits. “The preferred way to resolve this dilemma is to lower the emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said in the Climatic Change editorial. “However, so far, attempts in that direction have been grossly unsuccessful.”

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By Bob Pattalochi, August 21, 2006 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This could only be an emergency approach.
It assumes that sunlight is only heat!  Remember that the earth relies on the current level of solar energy to produce energy in everything from plants to plankton.  Shielding the amount of incoming sunlight will cause a different set of enviromental problems.

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By Broiler, August 21, 2006 at 6:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This sounds interesting, a radical step but perhaps
a productive one. My thought is wouldn’t sulfur
further acidify rain? I’m not a chemist but I
vaguely remember sulfur emissions as being a
component of acid rain.

Was this proposal “toungue in cheek”?

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By R. A. Earl, August 21, 2006 at 6:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m no chemist but to send up more pollutants to combat the effects of the ones already there sounds like a tactic that needs VERY close examination BEFORE implementation.

I understand that refineries and smelters, etc., around the world have invested heavily in filtration systems specifically to REMOVE sulphur from their emissions… because the sulphur that goes up eventually mixes with the rain to pour down on the countryside as SULPHURIC ACID, killing almost all living things it touches! I have to assume that a Nobel prizing-winning chemist would know this, so I guess I’m missing something.

NASA used the area around Sudbury, Ontario, Canada (huge sulphur-belching nickel mining operations) to test equipment prior to the moon landing because it was the closest equivalent to the real MOON topography to be found on earth!

I don’t think elemental sulphur “stinks.” I understand a compound called hydrogen sulphide - a GAS - smells like rotten eggs (there’s sulphur in the yolks).

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