A controversial geoengineering experiment that would have simulated the cooling effect of a volcanic eruption was canceled this week over a patent dispute. A team of scientists in the United Kingdom had announced last year their plans to send a gigantic balloon 12 miles above earth to recreate a volcanic cloud and study whether it could have cooled the earth. But arguments over a patent application, submitted before this proposed project had even begun, raised concerns over a potential conflict of interest.

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The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE), a consortium of several UK universities and a British aerospace company, had mulled a plan adding to the list of ambitious, or crazy, ideas to slow global warming using geoengineering. SPICE’s plan would have suspended a balloon the size of a football stadium 12 miles above the earth’s surface. The balloon, tethered to the ground by a long hose, would then have burst out a combination of chemicals and water into the atmosphere. In turn the scientists has planned to study the resulting data from the artificial cloud and gauge whether more scaled efforts would cool the planet while reflecting sunlight.

Two scientists involved in the project, however, had applied for patents for some of the project’s technologies before their involvement with SPICE. Meanwhile critics of the scheme and other geoengineering projects raise concerns that the UK lacks any government regulations or guidelines for such guargantuan experiments. Environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group, had also criticized the plan. Complaints against geoengineering experiments include fears that any benefits could be canceled out by altered rainfall patters and threats to the global food supply. For now SPICE says it will continue the research, but it will be limited to laboratory work.

Via Guardian, Nature.com

Photos courtesy Wikimedia (Justin Hamel, HughHunt)