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Construction and maintenance of a

stratospheric albedo-enhancing shield
Ron W Nielsen

Environmental Futures Centre, Griffith School of Environmental Science,

Griffith University, Cold Coast Campus, Qld, 4222, Australia

Abstract: Mathematical description of the construction and maintenance of a stratospheric

albedo-enhancing shield is presented. It is shown that the thickness of the protective shield,
constructed by regular deployment of a reflective material, approaches asymptotically a value
of L∞ = WT , where W is the amount of the material deployed per year and T is its residence
time in the stratosphere. Formulae for calculating the deployment costs using either rockets or
balloons are presented. They are used to estimate the climate-change mitigation costs.


Tropospheric aerosols create a serious dilemma. They provide a desirable, even though
limited, protection against the increasing global warming (Ramanathan et al. 2001) but they
create health problems. The protective effect of the tropospheric aerosols is known as global
dimming first reported by Suraqui et al. (1974) but explained significantly later (Gilgen, et
al., 1998; Stanhill and Cohen 2001).

If one defines the net surface radiative change as the sum of the absorbed short-wave
radiation, downward longwave radiation and upward longwave radiation, then the reported
net change between 1960 and 1990 is between –5 and –8Wm-2 (Gilgen et al. 1998; Garratt et
al. 1999; Liepert 2002, Stanhill and Cohen 2001; Ohmura 2004;Wild et al. 1997, 2004). In
the absence of the tropospheric aerosols, surface temperature of our planet would be
significantly higher and the associated climate change effects would be more severe.

However, the health problems associated with the tropospheric aerosols include not only
relatively minor effects such as headaches, nausea, coughing, sore throat, eye irritation, and
hay fever but also more serious consequences such as respiratory disease, cardiovascular
disease, cancer, increased susceptibility to bacterial infection, and premature death (Lipfert
1994; Bernstein, et al. 2004; Chan and Loh 2002; Chan-Yeung 2000; Dockery and Pope
1994; Morawska, et al. 2004).

The problem with using tropospheric aerosols as cooling agents is that their residence time is
incompatible with the residence time of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases reside in the
atmosphere over many years (Houghton, et al. 2001) abut aerosols are removed significantly

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faster. Thus to maintain the protective function of aerosols the atmosphere has to be
constantly polluted by combustion of fossil fuels, which in turn increases global warming.

A temporary solution to this dilemma is to deploy aerosols in the stratosphere (Crutzen 2006;
Keith 2000; NAS 1992) where their residence time is measured in years rather than in days or
weeks. A stratospheric shield made of aerosols would allow for lowering the aerosol pollution
in the troposphere without creating the danger of the increased global warming.

The residence time of aerosols in the troposphere depends on such factors as their size,
altitude, and season of the year. The reported values vary from a few days in the lower parts
of the atmosphere (below about 3km) to a few weeks in the upper parts (Balkanski, et al.
1993; Garland 1978; Holloway and Hayes 1996; Koch, et al. 1996; Pandis, et al. 1996;
Parungo, et al. 1994; Raes, et al. 1996; Vignati, et al. 2000).

In contrast, the residence time of aerosols in the stratosphere is claimed to be around 1-3 years
(Capone, et al. 1983; Crutzen 2006; Friend, et al. 1973; Jaenicke 1980; Roscoe 2001; Toon, et
al. 1979). Being placed far from the earth surface, stratospheric aerosols are also not expected
to create health related problems. However, there might be other undesirable environmental
consequences, such as ozone loss (Grant, et al.1994; Hofmann and Oltmans 1992; Prather
1992; Zhao, et al. 1995). Such risks have to be carefully assessed bore proceeding with the
deployment of large mass of aerosols in the stratosphere. It has been suggested (Keith 2000)
that reduced sunlight might also adversely affect various ecosystems and their productivity.
However, this problem might not be as severe as expected if the protective shield is not too

In the following discussion, the dynamics of the construction and maintenance of the
stratospheric protective shield will be examined. In addition, mathematical formulae for
calculating the costs of such a large-scale engineering project will be presented.

The dynamics of the construction and maintenance of a stratospheric shield

The problem with the construction of a protective shield is that as soon as the protective
material is deposited it starts to be removed by natural processes. Let us assume that amount
of the material removed dN over the time dt is directly proportional to the amount N of the
present in a given time.

− dN = λNdt (1)

where N is the amount of material, t is the time and λ is a constant describing the decay rate of
the deployed material.

This assumption leads to the well-known equation

N = N 0 e − λt = N 0 e − t / T (2)

where T ≡ 1 / λ is the residence time. It is clear that if t = T then N = N 0 / e . Thus, the

residence time is the time during which the original amount of material is reduced to 1/e, i.e.
to approximately to 37% of its original value.

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The amount of the albedo-enhancing material is too large to be deployed in a single operation.
Likewise, the deterioration of the shield caused by natural processes cannot be repaired by a
single deployment. Consequently, the formula (2) cannot be applied directly to the description
of the construction and maintenance of the protective shield.

Construction has to be carried out by deploying small quantities of the desired reflective
material. Each time the material is deposited it will immediately start to decay. Mathematical
description of the progress of construction has to include these two competing processes, the
gradual increase and decrease of the protective layer.

Let us assume that the construction of the protective shield is taking place over time t. The
reflective material is deployed in discrete quantities w during time intervals Δτ. Let Li be the
amount of the material that will remain in the atmosphere at the end of time t of the material
injected during the ith segment of time Δτ. Using the equation (2) we can now write:
Li = we −λ (t −iΔτ ) = Δτe−λ (t −iΔτ ) (3)
where Wt is the total amount of material deployed during time t.

The total amount of deployed material L(t ) that will remain in the stratosphere at the end of
time t is given by the following expression:

L(t ) ≡ ∑ Li = Δτ ∑ e − λ (t −iΔτ ) (4)
i =1 t i =1

where M is the total number of the Δτ segments dividing time t.

For the small intervals of time the formula (4) can be replaced by

Wt − λ (t − iτ )
t ∫0
L(t ) = e dτ (5)

This equation leads to the following simple formula:

L(t ) = WT 1 − e − t / T ] (6)

where W ≡ Wt / t . If t is measured in years then W is the amount of reflective material

deployed per year.

The relation (6) shows that as the time of deployment increases, the thickness L(t ) of the
protective shield also increases, at first rapidly but then more slowly approaching an
asymptotic value of L∞ = WT . Figure 1 shows the progress of the construction using regular
annual deployment of W = 5 Tg/y. This Figure, and the eqn (6) show that the construction of a
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stratospheric shield is a never-ending task. It is an intensive ongoing process for as long as the
shield needs to be held in place. If for instance, the residence time is one year and if we need
a 5Tg shield then 5Tg of aerosols will have to be deployed year after year for as long as we
need to have the shield. This would be the equivalent to damping 5Tg of aerosols in the
troposphere each year, which depending on the type of material used for the construction,
might create serious environmental issues.

Figure 1: Construction and maintenance of an albedo-enhancing shield by a regular

deployment of W = 5 Tg per year of a reflective material.

Cost assessment

The reflective material can be deposited either by rockets or balloons. For rockets, the
ongoing costs include the costs of rockets, rocket launchers, barrel replacement, running costs
of rocket stations, and salaries. For balloons, the components include the cost of balloons, the
cost of gas to fill in the balloons, running costs of balloon launching stations, and salaries.
One also has to consider the capital costs of establishing the launching stations.

Examples presented by NAS (1992) lead to the conclusion that costs calculations can be
represented by a simple mathematical formula:

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P=k (7)
where m is the payload mass by a single rocket or balloon.

The ratio W / m is the number of rocket launches or balloon lifts per year, and the factor k is
the cost of one rocket launch or one balloon lift. The expressions for k depend on whether
rockets or balloons are used.

For rockets:

p2 1 ⎡ p3 ⎛ κ ⎞ ⎤
k = p1 + + ⎢ + ⎜⎜1 + ⎟⎟n3 sS ⎥ (8)
n1 nt ′d ⎣ n2 ⎝ n2 ⎠ ⎦

p1 – the price of a rocket

p2 – the cost of barrel replacement
n1 – the number of rocket launches by a single launcher before the barrel needs to be replaced
n – the number of locket launches (shots) per hour
t ′ – the number of launching hours per day
d – the number of launching days per year
p3 – the annual running costs of a rocket launching station
n2 – the number of rocket launchers per station
κ – the number of backup rocket launchers per station
n3 – the number of persons per rocket launcher per shift
s – the number of shifts
S – the annual salary per person

For balloons

k = p1 + m1 p2 + p3 + (9)

p1 – the cost of a balloon
m1 – the mass of the gas filling in the balloon (in kg)
p2 – the price of the gas per kg
p3 – the annual running costs of a balloon launching station
n1 – the number of crew members per station
S – the annual salary of a crewmember
n – the number of lifts per station per day
d – the number of working days per year

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Table I
The parameters used in the calculations

Rockets Balloons
Item Value Item Value
m 5x10 kg m 105kg
p1 $104 p1 $2.25x106
p2 $10 m1 26,000kg
n1 1500 p2 $10.6/kg
n 5 p3 $3x104
t′ 24 n1 100
d 250 n 2
p3 $1.4x108 d 250
n2 10 S $105
κ 2
n3 10
s 3
S $105
Costs are in 1992 US dollars and at 1992 prices. To convert
them to the 2007 currency a factor of 1.466 should be applied.

Cost calculation involves also the calculation of the number of launching stations N.

For rockets:
W 1
N= (10)
m n2 nt ′d
For balloons:

W 1
N= (11)
m nd

The calculated values N should be rounded up to the nearest higher integer and the value of
W should be appropriately readjusted before using the eqn (7).

Using the 1992 prices and other relevant parameters as listed in Table I one can calculate that
the prices for a single rocket launch or a balloon lift is $11,240 or $2,575,600, respectively.
The amount of the reflective material carried by a balloon is significantly larger, so the overall
ongoing costs are comparable. The total costs, including the capital costs of one billion dollars
per station spread over the expected operation time of 40 years add little to the total costs. In
the approximate calculation, a round figure of only $25 billion per 1Tg of a reflective material
deployed per year can be adopted, irrespective of the delivery method.

It should be noted that similar calculations presented in NAS 1992, contain a few errors. In
particular, the number of assumed rocket stations is higher than required and there is a
multiplication error in the calculations involving balloons.

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A 10Tg shield is claimed to mitigate 1TtC (NAS 1992). Using the estimated mass of the
atmosphere (Trenberth 1981; Trenberth and Smith 2003) one can calculate that 1ppmv of CO2
corresponds to 2.13GtC. Thus 1Tg protective shield should mitigate the global warming effect
of about 46.95 ppmv of CO2. Conversely, global warming caused by 100 ppmv of CO2 should
be mitigated by 2.13Tg of an albedo-enhancing shield.

Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere in 2000 was 368 ppmv (Keeling and Whorf
2000). Projections of concentrations vary over significantly wide range of values (Houghton
et al 2001). However, it appears reasonable to assume that by 2050 CO2 concentration will
increase by about 150 ppmv over the concentration at the beginning of the current century. To
mitigate the global warming effect of this increase one would have to construct a 3.2Tg
protective shield.

If, in addition, one would want to remove the harmful aerosols from the troposphere then to
compensate for their absence one would have to increase the thickness of the stratospheric
shield. For sulphur, the estimated additional mass of the shield would be 1.9Tg (Crutzen
2006), making it a total of 5.1Tg. Such a shield could be constructed and maintained by an
annual deployment of 5.1Tg of protective material per year if T = 1 year or 2.6Tg if T = 2

The eqn (6) shows that to reach a saturation level of 90% one would require 2.3-4.6 years of
construction time depending on the residence time. To construct the desired shield in one
year, one would require additional launching stations. At 1992 prices, the additional capital
costs would be $20-27 billion for rockets and $60-80 billion for balloons, excluding the cost
of decommissioning of the redundant stations at the end of the first year. These values can be
easily calculated using eqns (10) and (11) and assuming a billion dollars per station.

To deploy 5Tg of reflective material per year using rockets one would need to construct 34
launching station in suitably chosen location, far from inhabited areas. Each station would
have 10 rocket launchers working 24 hours per day, 250 days per year. Additional 2 rocket
launchers per station may be assumed as a sufficient backup to replace the launchers that have
to be shut down for maintenance.

Referring to Table I, the reflective material could be deployed by launching a total of

10,000,000 rockets per year or 40,000 per day. The deployment would have to continue with
unchanged intensity for as long as the protective shield is required. Such massive deployment
might be expected to cause significant problems not only because of the constant downward
flow of the deployed material but because of the falling debris.

In contract, to launch the same amount of material per year using balloons, one would have to
construct 100 launching stations. However, the total number of required lifts would be only
50,000 per year, or only 200 per day.

Using the previously calculated figures for the cost per rocket launch or balloon lift it is easy
to see that the total annual cost of deployment of 5Tg of reflective material would be only
about 13% lower for rockets. The capital costs would be approximately three times lower.
However, capital costs spread over the assumed lifetime of the stations add little to the total
annual costs.
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The advantage of using balloons is in the considerably larger payload they can carry. The
resulting small number of balloon lifts per year makes this option more attractive. A recovery
and recycling of used balloons could lower the costs significantly.

If such geoengineering project were approved, it might be advisable to do it first on a smaller

scale. The overall costs would then be significantly smaller. Thus for instance, to deploy 1Tg
per year one would need to construct only 7 rocket-launching stations or 20 balloon stations.
The required reflective material could be deployed by launching 8,000 rockets or only 40
balloons per day.

A smaller scale of operation would also allow for studying experimentally possible negative
environmental effects of such a project and discontinue it if necessary. With the expected
residence time of only 1-2, the likelihood of permanent damage might be expected to be

The time for carrying out all the preliminary studies, which could be followed by tentative
deployment, appears to be disturbingly short. If the assessment of the Scientific Expert Group
on Climate Change (Bierbaum and Raven 2007; SEG 2007) is to be taken seriously, the
window of opportunity for controlling climate change might be closed around or before 2020.

Summary and conclusion

An analytic formula describing the process of constructing and maintaining of a stratospheric

albedo-enhancing shield has been derived. It shows that the thickness of protective shield
approaches asymptotically the level L∞ = WT , where W is the amount of material deposited
per year and T is its residence time in the stratosphere. To maintain the integrity of the shield,
the amount W has to be deposited for as long as the protection is required.

Formulae for calculating the costs of construction and maintenance using either rockets or
balloons as a delivery medium have been also presented. The annual costs of mitigation using
either rockets or balloons are similar but balloons appear to be more environmentally friendly.

Environmental implications of such a large-scale global project will have to be properly

assesses. However, its importance cannot be overstressed. It would be a project addressing
the most critical current problem: the global problem of climate change. Many countries
would be expected to collaborate in the implementation of this possible solution, but the
project appears to be both technically and financially feasible.


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