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Fighting climate change with MIT’s space bubble

The idea of combating climate change using a variation on the common geoengineering of a solar shield of ‘space bubbles’ that would float above the Earth to block and reflect the incoming sun’s rays without risk of any interference with the Earth’s biosphere is being investigated by a group of MIT researchers in an effort to stop global warming and reverse its impact. The research effort on space bubbles suggests creating a floating ‘raft’ of frozen bubbles out of a thin film that can be produced in space.

These bubbles, which when connected would cover an area the size of Brazil, will be floated at L1 Lagrangian Point and have their origins in the ideas of scientists James Early, who was the first to suggest placing a deflective object at the Lagrangian Point, and astronomer Roger Angel, who proposed the bubble-raft. It is the stable location in space where the gravitational pull of the Earth and the sun are equal.

The greenhouse effect, which traps the Sun’s incoming solar radiation in the atmosphere and causes a further increase in temperature, is one of the main causes of climate change. The goal was to come up with a solution that would support present efforts to combat climate change while not interfering with the earth’s atmosphere.

‘Geoengineering might be our final and only option,’ said Ratti, who is the head of MIT’s Senseable City Lab. ‘Yet, most geoengineering proposals are earth-bound, which poses tremendous risks to our living ecosystem.’
‘Space-based solutions would be safer – for instance, if we deflect 1.8 per cent of incident solar radiation before it hits our planet, we could fully reverse today’s global warming.’

This specific solar shield has the additional benefit of being reversible, meaning that the bubbles may be deflated, removed from their position, and then inflated again. This trait makes it non-interfering. Ionic liquids reinforced with graphene or silicon that is sent to space in molten form are the most likely candidates to be used to create these spheres.

The MIT team has already conducted a successful early experiment in which a spherical shell is inflated in space-like circumstances and is thought to be among the most effective thin-film bubble-shaped structures for deflecting incoming solar radiation.

As of now, the project is a working hypothesis, but the interdisciplinary team hopes to receive support to conduct a feasibility study that would involve further experimentation and analyses of these shields under various conditions. It will help to identify the right structure as well as materials that would be shipped from the earth for the creation of such space bubbles. It will also help to understand the positioning and stabilization of the shield, shading efficacy, cost efficiency, maintenance, and end-of-life transition, impact on climate and ecosystem, as well as public policy implications.

One such public policy argument concerns whether geoengineering of such a space bubble will impede efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels and could lead people to downplay the significance of the switch to other energy sources.

Geoengineering has generated controversy, although the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) has emphasised it as a vital backup plan in the event that we are unable to keep the temperature rise under control.

The following geoengineering ideas are also being considered:

1.taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,

2. By injecting gas into the stratosphere, some of the solar energy can be reflected,

3. enhancing marine clouds’ brightness to increase their reflectiveness, and

4. Altering the Earth’s albedo by giving deserts reflecting surfaces or white roofs.


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