Harvard scientists suspend geoengineering research project in Sweden

The purpose of this initial flight was to evaluate the equipment and software of the balloon propelled into the stratosphere. In subsequent launches, researchers hope to release small amounts of particles to better understand the risks and potential of solar geoengineering, the controversial concept of spraying sulfates, calcium carbonate, or other compounds above. of the Earth to scatter sunlight and mitigate global warming. These would mark the first geoengineering experiments carried out in the stratosphere.

But the committee decided that the researchers should wait even for preliminary testing of the equipment until they have had discussions with members of the Swedish public. David Keith, a Harvard climatologist and member of the research team, said they would comply with the recommendations.

The move is likely to push the launch into 2022, further delaying a project initially predicted to start as early as 2018. This also opens up the possibility that the first flights will take place elsewhere, as researchers had selected the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, in part because the Swedish Space Society could host a launch this year.

Harvard set up the advisory committee in 2019 to review the proposed experiments and ensure that researchers take appropriate measures to mitigate risks, seek outside contributions and operate transparently.

In a statement, the committee said it has started the process of working with public engagement specialists in Sweden and looking for organizations to hold conversations.

“This engagement would help the committee understand Swedish and indigenous perspectives and make an informed and responsive recommendation on equipment test flights in Sweden,” the committee said. “The engagement in Sweden would also contribute to the committee’s deliberations regarding proposed particle release flights and contribute to a growing body of research and practice on the public governance of geoscience research.”

In recent weeks, several environmental groups and geoengineering critics had called on Swedish government officials and executives at the Swedish Space Society, which would manage the flights, to stop the project.

Solar geoengineering “is a technology that can have extreme consequences and stands out as dangerous, unpredictable and unmanageable,” reads a letter published by Greenpeace Sweden, Biofuelwatch and other organizations. “There is no justification for testing and experimenting with technology that seems too dangerous to ever be used.”

In February, MIT Technology Review published a report explore what Harvard researchers hope to learn from the experiences.

“My opinion is actually very strong that I seriously hope that we will never be in a situation where this has to be done, because I still think this is a very scary concept and something is going to go wrong”, Frank Keutsch , principal investigator on the research project, told the publication.

“But at the same time, I think it’s very important to better understand what the risks are,” he added. “And I think for direct research that interests me the most, if there is a type of material that can significantly reduce [climate change] risks, I think we should know about it.

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