The Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) announced this week that it has canceled a test flight of the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) that would release calcium carbonate into the atmosphere with the intention of blocking the rays of the sun to offset “global warming”. The test, scheduled for June, was intended as a preliminary step in a larger project funded by multi-billionaire Bill Gates. The test would have sent a high-altitude balloon to an altitude of 12 miles where it would release about 1,300 lbs of calcium carbonate into the upper atmosphere.
The final plan, described as geoengineering or manipulating the environment, involves more than 800 special aircraft carrying millions of tons of calcium carbonate (a compound used commonly in cement, and medicinally as an antacid) into the stratosphere. The idea is to mimic the effects of massive volcanic eruptions which have lowered global temperatures in a phenomenon known as volcanic winter. Violent eruptions can send volcanic ash and droplets of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere, obscuring the Sun and raising Earth’s albedo (increasing the reflection of solar radiation). Most recently, the 1991 explosion of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, the second-largest eruption of the 20th century, cooled global temperatures by about .9 Fahrenheit for about 2–3 years.
“SCoPEx builds on four decades of research on the environmental chemistry of the ozone layer in the Anderson/Keith/Keutsch groups. SCoPEx will use or adapt many of the high-performance sensors and flight-system engineering experience developed for this ozone research,” according to the Keutsch Group at Harvard.
“Measuring the ways that aerosols alter stratospheric chemistry can, for example, improve the ability of global models to predict how large-scale geoengineering could possibly disrupt stratospheric ozone. Outdoor experiments can provide in situ perspective that is impossible to obtain in the laboratory and SCoPEx can help us validate important model parameters that have yet to been tested against measurements,” the team explained.
In February, shortly before an independent Harvard advisory committee was expected to give the go-ahead, a group of Swedish environmental organizations and the Indigenous Saami Council sent a letter demanding the project be canceled. “The SCoPEx plans for Kiruna constitute a real moral hazard,” they wrote. Many others questioned the wisdom of the test and geoengineering leading to the decision to cancel the test.
In a statement, the SCoPEx Advisory Committee officially announced the recommendation to postpone the test.
“The Committee has recommended to Harvard and the research team that any equipment test flights in Sweden need to be suspended until the Committee can make a final recommendation about those flights based on a robust and inclusive public engagement in Sweden.”
“The Committee will conduct a listening-based engagement activity in Sweden in order to help the Committee understand Swedish and Indigenous perspectives and make an informed and responsive recommendation about the equipment test flights.”
Johanna Sandahl, president of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, said she was relieved with the decision. “It’s a rejection of a technology with the potential for extreme consequences that could alter hydrological cycles, disrupt monsoon patterns and increase drought.”
The project is already behind schedule, with the first test scheduled to have been carried out in the first half of 2019. At a cost of $3 million, this initial test involves sending a high-altitude balloon up 12 miles to seed an area half-a-mile long and one hundred yards in diameter with 2.2 pounds of the material. Using propellers to maneuver, the balloon would then move through the cloud of dust, mixing the dust and monitoring the results.