Cloud-Seeding Yachts Sail the Seas

Researchers John Latham of the University of Manchester and Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh have designed wind powered cloud-seeding yachts that spray salty sea water into the air to increase the reflectivity of the clouds covering over 25% of the world’s water mass, meaning the clouds would reflect more solar energy back into space than they do currently. A mere 3% increase in cloud reflectivity would fully counter the global warming caused by the world’s increased CO2 emissions.




An Illustration of the wind powered cloud-seeding yachts  (Credit: Knowledge Allianz) 
An Illustration of the wind powered
cloud-seeding yachts
(Credit: Knowledge Allianz)

The yachts would use Flettner rotors, or spinning vertical cylinders, rather than sails to generate power from wind. The vessels would also use turbines placed under the hull to power additional operations of the boat including the actual spraying process. They would be unmanned and controlled via GPS positioning.

Estimates of the number of cloud seeders needed to counter global warming range from as low as 50 boats to as high as 1000. Each vessel would cost an estimated 500 million dollars. In order to reach the desired 3% increase, scientists estimate over 10% of the cloud cover must be seeded with enough salt to double their current levels. If this project moves forward, most of the necessary boats would likely be deployed in the southern oceans and seas where the marine cloud cover is thickest and thus they could do the most good.

 One theorectical approach to whitening marine stratocumulous clouds would be for giant turbines to send microscopic droplets into the air, as demonstrated by this prototype instrument. (Photo courtesy Stephen Salter)
One theorectical approach to whitening
marine stratocumulous clouds
would be for giant turbines to send
microscopic droplets into the air, as
demonstrated by this prototype instrument.
(Credit: Stephen Salter)

There is resistance to this project from environmentalists who claim that it just glosses over the problem of increased carbon emissions without doing anything to solve it. They claim that by fixing the symptoms of the problem and not reducing the emissions themselves, all these cloud seeders would do is make it harder to promote and implement a better solution that actually reduces the harmful gases rather than countering their effects. There are also some worries about potential weather changes and moving forward without fully understanding the consequences of changing the composition of our cloud cover.

TFOT has previously written about unmanned helicopters powered by tiny fuel cells, an offshore wind turbine capable of generating as much as 6000 Watts in 32.5 mile per hour winds, and about a new material that makes CO2 absorption easier.

You can find more information about the science behind these cloud-seeding yachts in this article on John Latham and more information about the use of marine technology to help the environment at Stephen Salter’s University of Edinburgh staff page.