In the experiment, which was conducted late last month, the researchers used a boat-mounted fan to blast salt crystals into the air, which help clouds reflect more sunlight, thus cooling the water around the reef.
According to lead scientist Daniel Harrison of Southern Cross University, the trial’s results were “really, really encouraging.”
“All the research is theoretical… so this an absolute world first to go out and actually try and take seawater and turn it into these cloud condensation nuclei,” he told AFP.
However, at least four additional years of research would be needed to validate the theory, Harrison added, also noting that a full-scale experiment would require barge-mounted turbines in order to significantly affect the reef.
“If it works as well as we hope then maybe we could reduce the bleaching stress by about 70 per cent ... potentially nearly all of the mortality,” he added.
He did also noted that the cloud-brightening technique would only be effective as long as the ocean temperature doesn’t continue to increase.
“If we keep going on business-as-usual-type emission scenarios, then at most this technology can just buy a couple of extra decades before we see the complete loss of the reef,” he warned.
In March, the Great Barrier Reef experienced its third coral bleaching event in the last five years. The event took place after scientists and conservationists warned in February that it would occur if ocean temperatures do not decrease.
High ocean temperatures lead to coral bleaching, a phenomenon in which coral polyps expel algae from their tissues and turn white. However, according to the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, corals can still survive the event.
“When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality,” the US agency explains on its website.