Scientists in Australia just successfully conducted a "cloud brightening" experiment in a new effort to combat the effects of climate change. Though still in early-stage trials, its promising results could potentially open a new frontier in environmental technology and policy.
According to Science Alert, scientists employed the process to protect coral from the rising ocean temperatures. Recent warmer waters have had an incredibly detrimental effect on the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral system, and many reefs have lost their color and turned white in a process called bleaching.
Bleaching occurs when the coral becomes stressed and expels the algae that live inside their tissues. In addition to giving coral their vibrant color, the algae is also responsible for 90 percent of coral's energy. Accordingly, many believe that a reef is close to death once it undergoes the bleaching process.
To combat this, researchers knew they needed to lower ocean temperatures and looked to the skies to do so. Their hope was to brighten clouds so they would reflect a greater amount of light from the sun back into space instead of letting it filter down through the atmosphere.
To artificially brighten clouds, scientists relied on shooting salt crystals into the air with fans that were likened to snow cannons, making the clouds more reflective.
Results from the trial were "really, really encouraging," said the project's lead scientist, Daniel Harrison, from Southern Cross University.
Though stressing that the next experiment would have to be ten times larger to fully understand its effects, Harrison was optimistic about the future.
"If it works as well as we hope then maybe we could reduce the bleaching stress by about 70 per cent... potentially nearly all of the mortality," he said.
However, the project is not without risks. Geoengineering Monitor noted that marine cloud brightening is a form of solar radiation management, meaning that it would affect weather in other places.
Models suggest that using cloud brightening could decrease global mean precipitation by up to 2.3 percent on average across the world, with particularly severe changes occurring over the Amazon and portions of South America.
"Who would decide where to put these possibly drought or flood-causing clouds?" the paper noted.
The article also warned that "geoengineering is likely to have major unintended consequences."
Australia is not the only country in Oceania that has logged substantially higher water temperatures in recent weeks. Citizens in New Zealand reported that over half a million mussels that washed up on their beaches had been "cooked" due to the warmer waters, as was previously covered by The Inquisitr.