Spy agencies fund climate research in hunt for weather weapon, scientist fears

Scientist believes intelligence services are considering using climate-altering systems as weapons. Photograph: Mike Hollingshead/Barcroft Media

, science editor, in San Jose
Sunday 15 February 2015 

US expert Alan Robock raises concern over who would control climate-altering technologies if research is paid for by intelligence agencies

A senior US scientist has expressed concern that the intelligence services are funding climate change research to learn if new technologies could be used as potential weapons.
Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has called on secretive government agencies to be open about their interest in radical work that explores how to alter the world’s climate.
Robock, who has contributed to reports for the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), uses computer models to study how stratospheric aerosols could cool the planet in the way massive volcanic eruptions do.
But he was worried about who would control such climate-altering technologies should they prove effective, he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose.
Last week, the National Academy of Sciences published a two-volume report on different approaches to tackling climate change. One focused on means to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the other on ways to change clouds or the Earth’s surface to make them reflect more sunlight out to space.
The report concluded that while small-scale research projects were needed, the technologies were so far from being ready that reducing carbon emissions remained the most viable approach to curbing the worst extremes of climate change. Areport by the Royal Society in 2009 made similar recommendations.
The $600,000 report was part-funded by the US intelligence services, but Robock said the CIA and other agencies had not fully explained their interest in the work.
“The CIA was a major funder of the National Academies report so that makes me really worried who is going to be in control,” he said. Other funders included Nasa, the US Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The CIA established the Center on Climate Change and National Security in 2009, a decision that drew fierce criticism from some Republicans who viewed it as a distraction from more pressing terrorist concerns. The centre was closed down in 2012, but the agency said it would continue to monitor the humanitarian consequences of climate change and the impact on US economic security, albeit not from a dedicated office.
Robock said he became suspicious about the intelligence agencies’ involvement in climate change science after receiving a call from two men who claimed to be CIA consultants three years ago. “They said: ‘We are working for the CIA and we’d like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we be able to detect it?’ I think they were also thinking in the back of their minds: ‘If we wanted to control somebody else’s climate could they detect it?’”
He replied that if a country wanted to create a stratospheric cloud large enough to change the climate, it would be visible with satellites and ground-based instruments. The use of the weather as a weapon was banned in 1978 under theEnvironmental Modification Convention (Enmod).
Asked how he felt about the call, Robock said he was scared. “I’d learned of lots of other things the CIA had done that didn’t follow the rules. I thought that wasn’t how my tax money was spent,” he said. The CIA did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend.
The US dabbled in weather modification before Enmod was introduced. In the early 1960s, researchers on Project Storm Fury seeded thunderstorms with various particles in the hope of diminishing their destructive power. A similar process was adopted during the Vietnam war, with clouds seeded over the Ho Chi Minh trail in a bid to make the major supply route for North Vietnamese foot soldiers too muddy to pass.
“I think this research should be out in the open and it has to be international so there won’t be any question that this technology will used for hostile purposes,” Robock said.


Climate change is lifting Iceland – and it could mean more volcanic eruptions


Land moving upward faster than researchers expected at 1.4in every year, allowing ‘hot potato’ rocks to rise

, US environment correspondent

Iceland is rising because of climate change, with land freed by the melting of the ice caps rebounding from the Earth at a rate of up to 1.4in per year.
The downside? Researchers believe the extra uplift could be behind an increase in volcanic activity, with three Icelandic eruptions in the last five years shutting down flights and spewing ash in the air.
In new research published in Geophysical Research Letters, scientists from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland found the earth’s crust rising at a much faster rate amid the greater warming of the last 30 years.
At some sites in south and south-central Iceland, where five of the largest ice caps are located, ice loss resulting from that warming produced an uplift of 1.4in per year, the researchers said.
Researchers have known for some time that land freed from the weight of ice sheets tends to rise. But they did not anticipate just how swiftly the bounce in Iceland was occurring.
“It’s similar to putting weights on a trampoline. If you take the weights off, the trampoline will bounce right back up to its original flat shape,” said Richard Bennett, a geologist at the University of Arizona and one of the authors of the new research.
The bigger bounce was due to increased warming over the last 30 years, mathematical models showed.
“What we found is that the uplift is increasing. It’s faster and faster everywhere because of the accelerated loss of ice mass,” said Bennett.
The researchers relied on 62 GPS devices, deployed on rocks throughout Iceland, to track the changes in position. Some of the GPS receivers had been in position since 1995.
The danger is that increased melting and uplift could lead to a further uptick in volcanic activity. Iceland has experienced three eruptions in the last five years. When Eyjafjallajökull blew in 2010, flights across Europe were disrupted for a week.
The entire chain reaction of melting ice caps, rising earth surface and volcanic activity is still not entirely understood, Bennett said. But as the surface of the earth rises, so do rocks at depth, released from the pressure of the ice.
“They transport the heat like a hot potato as they move from high pressure to lower pressure and enter into conditions that promote melting,” Bennett said. And that creates conditions that are ripe for eruptions.