Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

South Africa considers ‘dimming’ the sun to avoid running out of water

2 min read

It sounds like a plot lifted from a science fiction flick, but scientists have suggested permanently dimming the sun to save South Africa from deadly dry spells.

The hairbrained scheme would involve pumping vast quantities of gas into the atmosphere above Cape Town to preserve local water supplies.

It evokes the plot of 2007 sci-fi movie sunshine, in which scientists head off on a daring mission to reignite the dying sun with a nuclear bomb in 2057.

Put forward by experts at the University of Cape Town, it’s hoped the plan would dramatically reduce the chances of a water crisis engulfing the city.

Fears over a “Day Zero” drought – the point at which there’s not enough water for everyone – hitting the region have been brewing for years.

With the climate crisis tightening its grip on our planet, the chances of such a dry spell hitting Cape Town will triple by 2100, according to research.

In a study published last week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, scientists outlined one bonkers way to avoid such a catastrophe.

The plan is controversial, South African newspaper The Mail and Guardian reports, both due to its climate impacts and geopolitical implications.

In their paper, the researchers suggest injecting particles of sulfur dioxide gas into Earth’s upper atmosphere above Cape Town.

The gas would form a huge cloud above the city that reflects sunlight, dimming the environment on the ground below.

According to researchers, the sci-fi tactic could reduce the chances of a Day Zero drought hitting Cape Town by 2100 by up to 90 percent.

The goal would be to stop Cape Town’s climate from getting worse as the century progresses, maintaining the currents odds of a big drought.

“Our findings suggest that keeping the global mean temperature at 2020 levels through SAI would offset the projected end-century risk of Day Zero-level droughts by approximately 90 percent, keeping the risk of such droughts similar to today’s level,” the team writes in their paper.

The researchers stressed that the findings should not be viewed as an alternative to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Cape Town came closest to Day Zero in 2017 when a one-in-384-year drought put capacity at the city’s dams below 13 percent.

The city was said to be weeks away from turning off citizens’ taps and sending in the army to distribute water as daily rations.

Getting the mad new plot approved will certainly be a challenge for scientists, according to the Mail and Guardian.

Experts have previously slammed the idea of injecting gases into the atmosphere to curb the effects of global warming, calling it “potentially dangerous interference with the climate system”.

In a December 2018 paper, science advocacy group Climate Analytics said the implementation of such a system would “likely become a source of a massive conflict between nations.”

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