To Fight Warming, Brits Plan to Launch a Huge Balloon and Really Long Pipe

Like a volcano, but with a garden hose

When most people think of simulating a volcano, they think of baking soda, vinegar, and third grade science fair projects. A team of British researchers are thinking more along the lines of a giant balloon the size of a soccer stadium and a 12-mile garden hose that can pipe chemicals into the stratosphere to slow global warming. And they’re planning to test their hypothesis soon, sending a scaled down version of their sky-hose-balloon-thing skyward in the next few months.

It’s a pretty audacious attempt at geo-engineering, and one that very well might not work. The idea is to mimic the effect that volcanoes have when they erupt, pumping all kinds of particulate matter into the stratosphere that helps reflect solar radiation back into space. And while using a balloon and a long stretch of hose to create an artificial volcano may sound a bit “mad scientist,” the UK government is on board, putting more than $2.5 million behind the project. The Royal Society is backing this.

To test the stratospheric particle injection for climate engineering (that’s right: SPICE) project, the team will first send a smaller hose-augmented balloon up just over half a mile, pumping plain water into the air just to test the feasibility of piping particles into the sky. If it looks like they can reasonably stabilize a balloon and hose system at that altitude, work could go ahead on the real deal: a balloon that could be some 650 feet in diameter that would soar all the way into the stratosphere, elongated garden hose in tow.

That rig would more likely spew sulphates and other aerosols into the air that would reflect sunlight back into space. Which has environmental groups a bit edgy, considering we’ve never tried anything like this before. But seriously, spewing chemical particulates into our atmosphere in an attempt to artificially mimic one of mother nature’s most destructive and far-reaching devices–what could possibly go wrong?