Smithsonian Magazine reports that scientists secretly gathered in San Francisco earlier this month to experiment with blocking out the sun to stop climate change. The plan is to release salt crystals in clouds to deflect sunlight back into the atmosphere and cool the earth.

The scientists, researchers at the University of Washington, conducted the experiment on the defunct aircraft carrier USS Hornet docked near Alameda, California. The test run was purposely kept confidential because they knew it would elicit “public backlash.”

The experiment involved shooting microscopic salt aerosol particles into the air with a powerful sprayer gun to test how well they could survive outside of lab conditions. If they can establish how to ensure their ability to travel outdoors, they will then use them to force clouds to be brighter, thereby making the clouds deflect light and therefore keep the surface of the earth cooler.

If you increase the number of cloud droplets by increasing the number of sea salt particles, it’s like increasing the number of mirrors to reflect sunlight back to space,” said Rob Wood, the leading scientist at the University of Washington’s Marine Cloud Brightening Program. The story was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

They surmise that they could cool the earth by one degree Fahrenheit if they can brighten about 15 percent of the earth’s marine clouds. However, getting it wrong could be costly: if they release particles in clumps that are too big, they will trigger greater amounts of rainfall than would be natural.

Geoengineering is an increasingly alluring field of study for many climate scientists, although the environmentalists still opt for phasing out fossil fuels as the best way to combat climate change.

“You could well be changing climatic patterns, not just over the sea, but over land as well,” said senior Greenpeace International scientist David Santillo. “This is a scary vision of the future that we should try and avoid at all costs.”

Shane Devine is a writer covering politics and business for VT and a regular guest on The Unusual Suspects. Follow Shane’s work here.

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