Monday, June 25, 2007

Shooting CO2 Into Space

Today's idea on combating global warming: shooting CO2 into space.

Dr Wong reckons the problem is not so much that CO2 is being thrown away, but that it is not being thrown far enough. According to his calculations, a little helping hand would turn the Earth's magnetic field into a conveyor belt that would vent the gas into outer space, whence it would never return.

The site of the conveyor Dr Wong is proposing to build is the Arctic. More specifically, he is suggesting it be over one of his workplaces, the High Power Auroral Stimulation facility near Fairbanks in Alaska that he set up 20 years ago to stimulate and study artificial auroras.

The Arctic sky is special because it is one of the two places (the other being the Antarctic) where the magnetic shield of the Earth opens up to outer space. Auroras pleasingly testify to a stream of particles from the sun that gets through and hits the atmosphere. These particles bring with them many gigawatts of power that Dr Wong wants to harness to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

First, he has to ionise more CO2. There are many ways this might be done, but for a first experiment Dr Wong proposes zapping dust in the atmosphere with powerful lasers, to release electrons that can then combine with CO2. Having created the ions, he will then nudge those that have drifted upwards to the appropriate height with radio waves of exactly 17 cycles a second, which will give them a nice stock of energy at the beginning of their spiralling phase.

Once they are there, Dr Wong expects the incoming stream of charged particles that cause auroras to deliver the bonus that will make the whole thing work, by dumping some of their energy into the spiralling as well.
Sounds crazy, but too cool not to give it a try.

via The Economist, image via digg

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