Researchers launched a solar geoengineering test flight in the UK last autumn

Researchers launched a solar geoengineering test flight in the UK last autumn

Researchers launched a solar geoengineering test flight in the UK last autumn

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During the second flight, in September 2022, the smaller payload balloon burst about 15 miles above Earth as it expanded amid a drop in atmospheric pressure, releasing about 400 grams gas in the stratosphere. This may be the first time a measured gas payload has been verifiably released into the stratosphere in a geoengineering related effort. Both balloons were dropped from a launch site in Buckinghamshire, southeast England.


There have, however, been other attempts to place sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere. Last April, the co-founder of a company called Make Sunsets said he tried to free him in two crude balloon flights from Mexico, as MIT Technology Review previously reported at the end of the year. last. It’s also unclear if he was successful because the plane didn’t include equipment that could confirm where the balloons burst, said Luke Iseman, the startup’s chief executive.

The Make Sunsets effort has been widely denounced by geoengineering researchers, critics of the field, and the Mexican government, which has announced plans to ban and even halt all solar geoengineering experiments in the country. Among other issues, observers feared that the launches took place without notice or approval, and because the company ultimately seeks to monetize these launches by selling “cooling credits”.

Lockley’s experience was distinct in many ways. It was not a commercial enterprise. The balloons were equipped with instruments capable of tracking flight paths and monitoring environmental conditions. They also included a number of safety features designed to prevent the balloons from landing while still filled with potentially dangerous gas. In addition, the group has obtained flight permits and submitted what is called a “notice to airmen” to aviation authorities, which ensure that aircraft pilots are aware of flight plans in the region.

Some observers have said the amount of sulfur dioxide released during the UK project poses no real danger to the environment. Indeed, commercial flights regularly produce several times more.

“This is a harmless article or harmless experiment, in the direct sense of the word,” says Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia University and author of Geoengineering: the bet.

Public commitment

But some still fear the effort went ahead without broader public disclosures and engagement in advance.

Shuchi Talati, a scholar-in-residence at American University who forms a nonprofit focused on issues of governance and justice in solar geoengineering, fears there’s a growing disregard in this space for the importance of research governance. It refers to a set of norms and standards regarding the scientific merit and oversight of proposed experiments, as well as transparency and public engagement.


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