Researchers launched a solar geoengineering test flight in the UK last autumn

During the second flight, in September 2022, the smaller payload balloon exploded about 15 miles above Earth as it expanded amid reduced atmospheric pressure, releasing about 400 grams of gas into the stratosphere. That may be the first time a measured gas payload has been proven released into the stratosphere as part of a geoengineering-related effort. Both balloons were released from a launch site in Buckinghamshire, in southeast England.

There are, however, other attempts to put sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere. Last April, the cofounder of a company called Make Sunsets said, he tried to release it during a pair of the first balloon flights from Mexico, as reported by the MIT Technology Review some time ago year. Whether it succeeded is also unclear, as the aircraft does not include equipment that can confirm where the balloons exploded, said Luke Iseman, the startup’s chief executive.

The Make Sunsets effort has been widely criticized by geoengineering researchers, critics of the field, and the Mexican government, which has announced plans to ban and even halt any solar geoengineering experiments within the country. Among other issues, observers are concerned that launches are proceeding without prior notice or approval, and because the company ultimately seeks to monetize such launches by selling ” cool credit.”

Lockley’s experiment was different in several ways. It was not a commercial venture. Balloons are equipped with instruments that can track flight paths and monitor environmental conditions. They also include a number of safety features designed to prevent the balloons from landing while still filled with potentially dangerous gases. In addition, the group obtains flight permits and submits so-called “notice to airmen” to aviation authorities, which ensures that aircraft pilots are aware of flight plans in the area.

Some observers say that the amount of sulfur dioxide released during the UK project does not represent any real environmental risk. In fact, commercial flights often produce many times more.

“It’s a harmless write-up or a harmless experiment, in the literal sense,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia University and the author of Geoengineering: The Gamble.

Public engagement

But some are still concerned that the effort is moving forward without broader public disclosure and participation in the first place.

Shuchi Talati, a scholar in residence at the American University who formed a non-profit focused on issues of management and justice in solar geoengineering, fears that there is a growing rejection in this space for the importance of research management. . That refers to a set of rules and standards regarding the scientific merit and management of proposed experiments, as well as public transparency and engagement.

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