The potential manipulation of Earth’s heat budget and stratospheric ozone shield was a final concern of Wexler’s. In 1962 he lectured to technical audiences on inadvertent and purposeful damage to the ozone layer involving catalytic reactions of chlorine and bromine; he also lectured on climate-engineering through purposeful manipulation of Earth’s heat budget. Wexler discussed his concerns about increasing industrial pollution in the lower atmosphere, and from the increased use of sounding rockets in the thin, upper atmosphere. As an example he mentioned rising carbon dioxide emissions and cited a 1961 study by the Geophysics Corporation of America on modification of Earth’s upper atmosphere by rockets. He also reviewed recent developments in computing and satellites that led him to believe that manipulating and controlling large-scale phenomena in the atmosphere were distinct possibilities. In his lecture Wexler focused on both inadvertent and planned manipulations of “Earth’s radiative balance on a rather large scale [original emphasis].” After reviewing the dangers—to human health and to the climate system—of releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other gases and particles to the lower atmosphere, Wexler turned to purposeful techniques of climate control.

He presented some 20 technical slides of the atmosphere’s radiative heat budget and discussed means of manipulating it, concluding with a grand cautionary summary of various techniques to: a. increase global temperature by 1.7 C by injecting a cloud of ice crystals into the polar atmosphere by detonating 10 H-bombs in the Arctic Ocean; b. lower global temperature by 1.2 C by launching a ring of dust particles into equatorial orbit, a modification of an earlier Russian proposal to warm the Arctic; and c. destroy all stratospheric ozone, raising the tropopause, and cooling the stratosphere by up to 80°C by an injection of a catalytic agent such as chlorine or bromine.

He estimated that a mere 0.1 megaton bromine “bomb” would destroy all ozone in polar regions and 0.4 megaton would be needed near the equator. Wexler was concerned that inadvertent damage to the ozone layer might occur if increased rocket exhaust polluted the stratosphere. He was also concerned that future near-space experiments could go awry, citing: Operation Argus (nuclear blasts in near space, 1958); Project West Ford (a ring of small atoms might act in a catalytic cycle with atomic oxygen to destroy thousands of ozone molecules. In a handwritten note, composed in January 1962, Wexler scrawled the following: “UV decomposes O3 → O in presence of halogen like Br. O → O2 recombines and so prevents more O3 from forming.” On another slip of paper: “Br2 → 2 Br in sunlight destroys O3 → O2 + BrO.” These are essentially the basis of modern ozone-depleting chemical reactions. Using Manabe and Möller’s model, Wexler was able to calculate an 80 C stratospheric cooling with no ozone layer.

In the summer of 1962 Wexler accepted an invitation from the University of Maryland Space Research and Technology Institute to lecture on “The Climate of Earth and Its Modifications.” Under normal circumstances, he would have prepared his ideas for publication, perhaps as he had done in his 1958 article in Science, “On Modifying the Weather on a Large Scale.” On August 11, 1962, however, during a working vacation at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Wexler was cut down at the age of 51 by a sudden heart attack. A pile of papers on the upcoming World Weather Watch cluttered his desktop. The documents relating to his career, from his early work at MIT to his final speeches on ozone depletion and climate control, headed into the archives, probably not to be seen and certainly not to be reevaluated until today. The well-known and well-documented Supersonic Transport (SST) and ozone depletion issues developed about a decade later. The idea that bromine and other halogens could destroy stratospheric ozone was published in 1974, while CFC production expanded rapidly and dramatically between 1962 and its peak in 1974. Had Wexler lived to publish his ideas, they would certainly have been noticed and could have led to a different outcome and perhaps an earlier coordinated response to the issue of stratospheric ozone depletion.

JAMES RODGER FLEMING files/seminars/Chapter%2012%20Polar%20and%20Global%20Wexler.pd


“On the Possibilities of Climate Control” in 1962: Harry Wexler on Geoengineering and Ozone Destruction

Author:Fleming, J. R.


In 1962, in the early days of GCMs and satellites, Harry Wexler, Chief of the Scientific Services Division of the U.S. Weather Bureau and one of the most influential meteorologists of the 20th century, turned his attention to techniques that could raise or lower the overall temperature of the planet or rearrange its thermal structure. He also investigated possible inadvertent and purposeful damage to the ozone layer involving catalytic reactions of chorine and bromine. This work pre-dated the Nobel Prize-winning work on ozone depletion of P. Crutzen, M. Molina, and S. Rowland by about a decade. Wexler revealed his concerns about geoengineering and ozone destruction in a series of lectures “On the Possibilities of Climate Control” presented to technical audiences in Boston, Hartford, and Los Angeles in 1962. Using newly available results from GCMs and satellite heat budget experiments, Wexler pointed out that strategic manipulations of the Earth’s shortwave and longwave radiation budgets could result in rather large-scale effects on general circulation patterns in short or longer periods, even approaching that of climatic change. These techniques, included increasing world temperature by several degrees by detonating up to ten H-bombs in the Arctic Ocean; decreasing world temperature by launching powder into an equatorial orbit to shade the Earth and make it look somewhat like Saturn and its rings; warming the lower atmosphere and cooling the stratosphere by artificial injections of water vapor or other substances; and notably, destroying all stratospheric ozone above the Arctic circle or near the equator using a relatively small amount of a catalytic agent such as chlorine or bromine. Wexler was preparing a new lecture in the summer of 1962 on “The Climate of Earth and Its Modifications,” and might, under normal circumstances, have prepared his ideas for publication, as he had done earlier. However, he was cut down in his prime by a sudden heart attack on August 11, 1962. His previously unexamined notes and papers on climate control and ozone destruction are located in the Library of Congress.

Chlorine, Bromine AND Iodine in arctic aerosols

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