Messing with weather: Is that messed up – or what? Maybe, maybe not

Fooling with Mother Nature is almost certainly asking for trouble.

Where this is going is nobody wants a planet that climate change-wise or temperature change-wise reaches the point of no return. If that happens, it’s theoretically curtains.

But, don’t think for a second that humankind can’t change weather or climate. We can and have.

Want examples? Here are two.

The first has to do with changing cloud composition. The information comes from “The lingering clouds: Study shows why pollution results in larger, deeper and longer lasting storm clouds, leading to colder days and warmer nights,” Nov. 25, 2013 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory news release.

“Researchers had thought that pollution causes larger and longer-lasting storm clouds by making thunderheads draftier through a process known as convection. But atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan and her colleagues show that pollution instead makes clouds linger by decreasing the size and increasing the lifespan of cloud and ice particles. The difference affects how scientists represent clouds in climate models.”

“High clouds left after a thunderstorm spread out across the sky and look like anvils. These clouds cool the earth during the day with their shadows but trap heat like a blanket at night. Pollution can cause clouds from late afternoon thunderstorms to last long into the night rather than dissipate, causing warmer nights.”

“Possible reasons revolve around tiny natural and manmade particles called aerosols that serve as seeds for cloud droplets to form around. A polluted sky has many more aerosols than a clean sky – think haze and smog – and that means less water for each seed. Pollution makes more cloud droplets, but each droplet is smaller.”

“‘Observations consistently show taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds in storm systems with pollution, but the models don’t always show stronger convection. Now we know why,’” Fan in the release emphasized.

The second case shows how a change in the amount of oxides of nitrogen coupled with ammonia and thereby forming ammonium nitrate molecules in the wintry air, can cause a corresponding change in California tule fog. The low down is from an Apr. 10, 2019 University of California, Berkeley press release.

“The results help explain the puzzling decades-long rise and fall in the number of ‘fog days’ affecting the region, which increased 85 percent between 1930 to 1970 and then decreased 76 percent between 1980 to 2016. This up-and-down pattern follows trends in air pollution in the valley, which rose during the first half of the century, when the region was increasingly farmed and industrialized, and then dropped off after the enactment of air pollution regulations in the 1970s.

“‘That increase and then decrease in fog frequency can’t be explained by the rising temperatures due to climate change that we’ve seen in recent decades, and that’s what really motivated our interest in looking at trends in air pollution,’ said Ellyn Gray, a graduate student in environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley and first author on the paper, which appears online in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. ‘When we looked at the long-term trends, we found a strong correlation between the trend in fog frequency and the trend in air pollutant emissions.’”

“And it makes sense, given what we know about how clouds and fog form, Gray says. Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react with ammonia to form ammonium nitrate particles, which help trigger water vapor to condense into small fog droplets. Emissions of NOx have declined dramatically since the 1980s, resulting in a decrease in ammonium nitrate aerosols and fog.

“‘In order to get fog to form, not only do you need the temperature to go down, but there has to be some sort of seed for water to condense around, similar to how you would have a cloud seed in the atmosphere,’ Gray said. ‘Ammonium nitrate happens to make very good fog seeds — water is very attracted to it.’”

So, by virtue of the two above examples, this is proof positive that it is possible that weather and climate can be tweaked through means of human intervention.

Atmospheric decarbonization: It that really necessary or, for that matter, smart?

Speaking of cloud seeding what this speaks to is the matter of purposeful atmospheric manipulation. Include under that umbrella technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon removal and reuse (CRR) to name but two.

With this in mind, lots of people feel that the point of no return is right where we’re headed if we don’t get a handle on this decarbonizing the air bit and in hurry. And, by decarbonizing the air what we are really talking about is having a carbon neutral atmosphere which means that however much carbon is being put in, an equal amount must come out.

As for CCS and CRR, if it can be done on a grand enough scale, then a real difference can be made. By grand, we’re talking really big. Imagine having the capability to remove from air, say, 50 gigatons of CO2, annually. That’d really be taking it on, wouldn’t it though?

Along with that, carbon polluters could feel enormous pressure to strictly monitor their outputs, ensuring that their air pollution contributions don’t exceed certain limits. Another point: Voluntary self-monitoring, self-policing: How well have those programs worked?

And, then there’s this in the Air Quality Matters post “CRR, that’s code for carbon removal and reuse. Good idea? Will it work?” of Oct. 27, 2018.

“Okay, so … let’s just say that if the carbon from the air is captured and reused as material … to generate heat or electricity from, if, on a grand scale and such is sold to consumers or whomever, then, conceivably, this could mean less such electricity or heat would need to be purchased from other sources, fossil-fuel based or otherwise …” and “… it stands to reason that this type of energy generation would be in competition with that which is generated from or by different processes.”

Further, and from the same source, “Fossil fuels when burned emit other pollutants besides carbon. While the carbon would be captured, any other pollutants that get left behind like oxides of nitrogen (along with the cocktail of additional air toxics that are emitted when fossil fuels burn), would roam freely.”

So, while one emission is kept in check, the likes of a mitigation program on this order would allow other pollutants to remain aloft in the air floating around willy-nilly.

Then again there’s always the course reversal, the sure-fire way to see the (if you’ll excuse the pun) light of day.

Image above: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

This post was last revised on Aug. 12, 2020 @ 9:32 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Published by Alan Kandel

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