A novel approach to climate change

By Richard Gravelle

An innovative attempt at geoengineering is currently underway in the Peruvian Andes.  Funded by a World Bank grant of $200,000 (£135,000), Eduardo Gold and a small team of local volunteers are attempting to paint an area of 70 hectares in an attempt to reduce glacier melting and promote colder temperatures.

The effects of climate change have long seen Chalon Sombrero (4,756 a.s.l.), and two adjacent peaks devoid of snow cover.  It is hoped however that using whitewash (a mixture of lime, egg white and water) to colour rocks and ground surfaces will change the albedo of the area – the strength of a surface’s reflectivity.  Painting the area white increases the brightness of the surface and could help to reduce melting and promote glacier growth as more sunlight is reflected, rather than being absorbed and warming the surface.

Peru is home to 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers, but has lost 22% of them as a result of climatic warming in the past 30 years. With a large population dependent on the area’s glaciers for drinking water and agricultural irrigation, people the world over will be watching a remote part of the Andes with interest.

Dan Collyns, BBC News, 17th June 2010: Can painting a mountain restore a glacier?

Royal Society Report, 1st September 2009: Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty

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