Cancellation for field study in climate-change project

A field study for a geoengineering project aiming to mitigate the effects of climate change has been cancelled.

The £1.6m Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project involves pumping sulphur into the atmosphere through a 20km pipe in a bid to refract light and cool the earth.

As part of a field trial for SPICE, engineers were planning to look at the effects of wind on a tethered balloon at a height of 1km while at the same time pumping water at a rate of 100kg/hour.

‘It is with some regret that… the SPICE team has announced we’ve decided to call off the outdoor “1km testbed” experiment that was scheduled for later this year,’ said lead scientist on the SPICE project, Dr Matt Watson from Bristol University.

The plan was to use the data obtained from these tests in computer models aimed at examining how a full-scale tethered balloon would behave in high winds at altitudes of 20km.

Watson explained that the reasons for the cancellation were complex but said they were related to governance, intellectual property and public engagement.

One of the key reasons for cancelling the launch relates to a patent application that was filed prior to the SPICE project being proposed, which described the delivery technology.

‘The details of this application were only reported to the project team a year into the project lifetime and caused many members, including me, significant discomfort,’ said Watson. ‘Efforts are underway to make the patent application’s intentions unambiguously to protect intellectual property and not for commercial purposes.’

Dr Hugh Hunt, senior lecturer at Cambridge University and SPICE team member, said that while this particular aspect of SPICE had encountered a setback, almost all of the rest of the EPSRC-funded project is still going ahead as normal.

‘It is regrettable that the field-trial aspect of SPICE has now been cancelled, but it is vitally important that the remainder of the project, which is desk and lab based, should continue,’ said Prof Peter Cox, a climate systems dynamics expert from Exeter University.