January 06, 2014
Suppose We Could Geoengineer Polar Vortex Southward Bulges

The southern pine beetle has been doing great damage to the New Jersey Pine Barrens. But it dies at -16C (about 3F). So what is needed to prevent its spread? A periodic severe cold snap. As I write this Tabernacle NJ (in the pine barrens) will get down to 5F tonight. Close but not quite.

To stop the southern pine beetle A polar vortex where cold weather breaks thru from the arctic and heads south would deliver the needed cold if it was nudged to go a bit further to the south and east.

Similarly, the march of mangroves northward in Florida could be stopped by a couple of -4 C cold snaps.

Periodic cold snaps would wipe out a number of pests and invasive species. Could a periodic surge of the polar vortex into the US east coast be geoengineered? If you think the answer is yes do you have any ideas on how to do this?

We might have more polar vortexes surging southward in our future.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 January 06 07:35 PM 

Ronald Brak said at January 7, 2014 7:20 AM:

The only way I can think of off the top of my head to realistically lower the temperature over a reasonably large area of forest is to set up lots of snowmaking machines and use them whenever the conditions are right. Snowmaking machines cool the air through the evaporation of water and create snow which blankets an area which reduces temperatures by reducing albedo. Done on a large enough scale combined with the right weather conditions it might do the job. While this would require a vast amount of water and a lot of energy and a lot of capital, it still might be the cheapest way to go about lowering temperatures. Snow making machines are the only reason why skiing is still posible in Australia at all with any regularity and treated sewage is often used as a source of water.

Oliphant said at January 7, 2014 7:40 AM:

Large chaotic climate cycles create evolutionary niches then snatch them away without apology.

If one can convince commoners that anthropogenic carbon emissions lead to virtually any adverse weather condition known to man, he is in a great position to rake in the profits. No wonder organized Euro-crime is so closely tied to carbon markets.

Ronald Brak said at January 7, 2014 4:29 PM:

Oliphant, we just had the hottest year on record here in Australia so I'm wondering how can I start raking in the money from this situation? I'm looking forward to some of that sweet, sweet rake money.

Brett Bellmore said at January 7, 2014 5:48 PM:

I'm going to be planting "hardy" citrus trees in my backyard this spring. They're rated to survive the natural climate here. If somebody takes up your suggestion, and they croak as a result, who do I bill? Who gets the bill for all the orchards that are wiped out? Who gets the bill for all the excessive heating bills, for the people who die of exposure?

Find a different way to deal with pine beetles. Your proposal would have enormous costs.

Russ in TX said at January 8, 2014 7:16 AM:

North America is already shaped by rapid shifts in climate - the "Climatic Trumpet" Tim Flannery talks about is a big deal. Mangroves and other things may get a short-term foothold, but on the timescales that matter, unless they adapt to weather sudden and brutal cold snaps they're toast in our environment.

David Friedman said at January 11, 2014 2:19 PM:

The obvious problem with your suggestion is that the same drop in temperature that would have a good effect might also have bad effects. Pushing one area down to 3 degrees might, for instance, mean pushing an area further north below freezing and damaging cold sensitive plants. More generally, a problem with geoengineering of climate is that, like any other climate change, it is likely to have both good and bad effects.

Mark Bahner said at January 11, 2014 2:34 PM:

"The only way I can think of off the top of my head to realistically lower the temperature over a reasonably large area of forest is to set up lots of snowmaking machines and use them whenever the conditions are right."

One only needs to get the beetles' bodies down to 3 deg F. Hmmmm...robotic devices that climb trees and shoot liquid nitrogen onto the beetles?

Get the devices run by people making less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa. Pay them $2 a day, plus a penny for each beetle killed.

Hmmmmmm...would definitely take a lot of work, but would be very cool...no pun intended.

Ronald Brak said at January 11, 2014 5:27 PM:

Mark, using robots to directly control pests is definitely a possibility. In Europe they paid people to physically pluck Colarado Beetles from plants in the 50's after the beetles became resistant to DDT. And in poor countries farmers often directly physically deal with pests by squishing them, eating them, etc. So beetle killing robots are a possibility provided they drop in price enough to be competitive with other methods. While I really don't think they'll be remote controlled, I suppose that is an option.

Randall Parker said at January 11, 2014 7:11 PM:

David Friedman,

Damaging cold sensitive plants (e.g. mangroves) is actually a desired outcome in some instances. Granted, some orange growers in northern Florida would be upset. But their crops are going to get wiped out by an invasive species anyway.

Good and bad effects: yes, of course. That is the same as with natural weather. Plus, that is the same with the unnatural (i.e. as a result of human activity) that we are already doing on a massive scale. The difference here is in the intentionality. But once we know enough about how our emissions change climate just letting it happen will be intentional too. Intentional intervention or blocking intentional intervention will both be political acts. Allowing massive side effects on climate from human activities will also involve many political acts.

Ronald Brak,

We could pulse sulfate aerosols into the atmophere to cause an especially cold winter. We could start the pulse in the fall and stop it at the dead of winter.

Brett Bellmore,

Obviously there are costs to cold weather. We've been bearing the costs of especially cold weather for a long time. Those cold weather pulses have been happening on the US East Coast for a long time and kept out the Southern pine beetle. But more recently it looks like humans made these really cold winters less frequent. We need special conditions to make the natural weather to happen now.

Ronald Brak said at January 11, 2014 10:35 PM:

Seasonal sulphate release could be tried, but a low levels it tends to get rained out and at high levels where it lasts longer it quickly spreads in a band across the hemisphere and my guess is it will be hard to get everyone it will affect on board with it.

Ronald Brak said at January 12, 2014 12:19 AM:

But if sulphate release is going to be tried, then doing it seasonally in a way that maximises snowfall and so results in greater cooling from snow and ice's higher albedo might give the most cooling effect in return for the least damage to the environment and presumably cost.

Engineer-Poet said at January 12, 2014 7:14 AM:

Another pulse in spring, to delay the spring thaw, might also be helpful.

Rvik said at January 13, 2014 8:49 AM:

Exorbitantly expensive, bet-the-farm approaches would only work if you knew what nature had in store for you next year, next decade, next century. Clearly you do not.

Everyone could upload themselves into a computer model, in which case they would know what was coming. Perhaps that would be a more workable approach.

Ronald Brak said at January 14, 2014 4:31 AM:

A record was broken here in Adelaide today. Temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and the predicted maximum for tomorrow is 46 degrees Celcius (115 degrees Fahrenheit). So we're looking at nine degrees over human body temperature tomorrow. Fortunately it's a dry heat.

Mark Bahner said at January 14, 2014 9:42 AM:

"Exorbitantly expensive, bet-the-farm approaches would only work if you knew what nature had in store for you next year, next decade, next century. Clearly you do not."

That's one reason why I like the idea of robots to handle the problem. They give the ability to focus like a laser on the actual problem (the beetles)...rather than doing something that might cause many more problems. In fact, it seems to me that it would be a really, really cool thing for Dean Kamen's FIRST competition to challenge high school students to build robots that could do the job of getting the pine beetles.


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