Future technology might allow manipulation of ice crystals to alter climate
Laser blasts might help scientists tweak Earth’s thermostat by shattering the ice crystals found in cirrus clouds.
Zapping tiny ice particles in the lab forms new, smaller bits of ice, researchers report May 20 in Science Advances. Since clouds with more numerous, smaller ice particles reflect more light, the technique could combat global warming by causing the clouds to reflect more sunlight back into space, the scientists say.
Scientists from the University of Geneva and from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany injected water drops into a chilled chamber that mimics the frigid conditions high in the atmosphere, where wispy cirrus clouds live. The water froze into spherical ice particles, which the scientists walloped with short, intense bursts of laser light.
When the laser hits an ice particle, ultrahot plasma forms at its center, producing a shock wave that breaks the