Chemtrails: crop circles of the sky?

Gaze up at the sky on a regular basis: you’ll likely glimpse them every once in a while. Long, wispy cloud-like lines that span the horizon. Captured across Earth in scores of videos and photos, the white trails, too straight to be natural and increasingly sighted by the public, have become fodder for debate. Significant numbers of people — US polls taken in 2016 and 2017 suggest somewhere between 20 to 40 per cent of Americans for instance — believe the sky trails are chemtrails harbouring harmful chemicals covertly used for purposes that include weather manipulation. The official story — backed by governments, media giants and most scientists — insists that what we are viewing are condensation trails (contrails) emitted by high-altitude jets. Whether or not you’ve already chosen your camp, what’s the evidence? More importantly, do the trails pose any threat to your health or the planet?

Jet contrails

As the trails can persist and expand into cloud cover, public speculation has been inevitable. In 2000 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a position statement on the topic: the Aircraft Contrails Factsheet. Dismissing chemtrails as a “conspiracy theory”, it states that the trails are a normal effect of jet aviation. They pose no health risks, we’re assured.

Contrail scientist Bernd Kärcher explains in an article in Nature Communications that contrails are composed of ice crystals created when jet emissions combine with suitably moist and cold air, typically under –40 °C, at high altitudes. Depending on atmospheric conditions, they can lose their original linear appearance, change shape and be short- or long-lived, he informs us. Persistent aircraft-induced clouds that last for 10 minutes or more have even been given their own scientific name, Cirrus homogenitus, in the World Meteorological Organization’s International Cloud Atlas.

More weight for the contrail explanation rests on a 2016 survey published in Environmental Research Letters, frequently cited by media articles. Sent to 475 hand-picked top contrail and atmospheric deposition experts, among several questions the poll queried if they’d ever come across evidence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program. Of the 77 who responded, all but one answered “No”.

The geoengineering theory

The “chemtrail” faction also has its own artillery of research and experts. A key figure is Dane Wigington. The renewable energy expert began a 20-year investigation into the sky trails after his solar panels (in North California) experienced massive losses in power uptake due to solar obstruction. Wigington claims the Environmental Research Letters study is propaganda designed to cover up the truth of what’s happening in our skies — its authors include Mick West (who founded around 2007) and Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist associated with geoengineering research. According to Wigington, geoengineering is the heavily guarded truth behind the sky trails.

Geoengineering (also known as climate or weather engineering) is the large-scale manipulation of environmental processes that affect Earth’s climate to counteract the impacts of global warming. Key scientific interventions involve reducing incoming sunlight (known as “solar radiation management”) and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, ocean and land. The focus of billions of dollars in research and investment, what is hotly contested is whether such techniques have already been instigated.

As reported by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, an international UN moratorium prohibits geoengineering activities until “global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms” are in place. But they also note in their 2020 article that Southern Cross University recently deployed solar geoengineering technologies under the guise of restoring local coral reefs. While considered to be in research stage only, several documentaries, including Look Up (2013), Overcast (2017), What In the World Are They Spraying (2010) and The Dimming (2021), claim weather modification has been going on for decades in a collusion of commercial corporate interests, governments and scientists.

Wigington, who founded GeoEngineering Watch in 2009, says evidence available on his site includes over 300 US patents from 1891 to the present and numerous government documents relating to weather modifications. This includes weather manipulation as a military weapon and in experimental “cloud seeding” and “chemical ice nucleation”.

The Shield Project

Support for the geoengineering chemtrails theory comes from Monir Mohamed El Husseini, a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Cairo University. In an article in Acta Scientific Agriculture in 2019, El Husseini claims that in 2000 the United Nations approved and embarked on a 50-year-long, US$50 billion weather engineering program, the Shield Project, to combat global warming. The project’s key strategy, as outlined by El Husseini, involves creating chemical clouds of aluminium oxide, chosen for its reflective qualities, to reflect the sun away from Earth, thereby cooling the planet. Nanoparticles of barium monoxide included within the aerosol mix reduce CO2 in the troposphere. The 1990 patent (US5003186A) upon which the technique is based explains that the metal oxide nanoparticles are dispersed about seven to 13 kilometres above Earth’s surface using “seeding aircraft”. Coincidentally, Caldeira gets a mention in El Husseini’s paper: his computer simulations of the patent played a key role in the Shield Project.

Health concerns

If the evidence for a link between the sky trails and geoengineering is to be believed, what health consequences might there be? Condemning the Shield Project as “a total disregard for human health”, El Husseini’s article associates the aluminium and barium oxides with increased risk of health issues including respiratory and stomach problems, headaches, allergies, memory loss, depression, ear infections, Alzheimer’s syndromes and calcification diseases. Neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, who also believes the evidence for geoengineered chemtrails, warns that nanosized aluminium particles can contribute to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. Such microscopic particles more easily penetrate the brain via the olfactory system and are absorbed in much higher levels by the gut, where they migrate to organs and tissues including the brain and spinal cord, he explains.

According to Wigington, elements associated with geoengineering patterns, including aluminium nanoparticles, are showing up in copious quantities within precipitation tests. A 2015 study identified coal fly ash, a toxic by-product of industrial coal burning containing microscopic particles of heavy metals, as a likely material used in climate modification programs.

Environmental impacts

If some of the sky trails really are the signatures of geoengineering, we should worry. Even diehard proponents acknowledge the climate experiment could backfire, while 195 organisations around the world, including Friends of the Earth and World Rainforest Movement, have signed the HOME (Hands Off Mother Earth) manifesto demanding a ban to all geoengineering experiments and deployment. A key criticism is that it allows the powerful fossil fuel industry to continue.

Risks to the planet described by El Husseini’s 2019 review include new wind directions, more frequent and stronger hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, ecosystem dehydration (aluminium oxide absorbs air humidity) and extreme heatwaves (the particles act like a two-sided mirror reflecting heat from Earth back down). The knock-on effects include reduced biodiversity, food and water security, affecting traditional livelihoods and increasing international conflicts.

At least one scientific article attributes environmental problems today to climate modification. The paper, published in Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal in 2021, blames large-scale dying off of giant sequoia and coast redwood forests in California that have survived natural climate change for 3000 years on climate engineering. “Scientists concerned with the wellbeing of these magnificent trees blame their recent die-offs on climate change, drought, and insects while turning a blind eye to the primary underlying cause: environmental modification by jet-emplacement in the troposphere of toxic particles evidenced as coal combustion fly ash,” the authors write. “Said aerosolized particulates cause droughts and deluges, heat the troposphere, contaminate rain, snow, and fog with plant-killing toxins including chemically-mobile aluminum, coat foliage, and exacerbate forest fires. The aerial spraying depletes stratospheric ozone, allowing damaging ultraviolet radiation B and C to reach Earth’s surface. These environmental stressors weaken the trees to the point they are attacked by insects and pathogenic fungi.” Like El Husseini, the researchers blame an international treaty between the United Nations and coerced nations.

Speaking out in 2006 at a United Nations assembly meeting, Rosalind Peterson, co-founder of the Agriculture Defence Coalition, expressed concerns about geoengineering experiments that had negatively affected trees, soils, drinking water, crops and other aspects of agriculture. Addressing her peers, she said: “None of these experiments have any public oversight nor agricultural oversight.”

Global dimming

Given the issues, most of us would want caution around climate engineering, but how solid is the evidence linking it to the sky trails? At the heart of the debate is the physics, behaviour and appearance of contrails.

El Husseini describes the application of the Shield Project chemicals at Cairo, Egypt, by seeding aircraft in 2004. As he describes, after a few hours the sprayed chemtrails dispersed and formed a thin dust of long clouds that gradually fused together to build one giant cloud over the whole region. Eight hours later, the temperature in Egypt dropped from 34°C to 14°C. True jet contrails, he argues, are much shorter white lines that dissipate after 15 to 30 seconds.

But according to a 2018 scientific paper by Kärcher, contrails can persist for 10 minutes or much longer. This is particularly so when they transform into or merge with natural cirrus clouds. The latter are high wispy, stringy or feathery thin translucent clouds composed of ice crystals. Adding to the difficulty of pinning down what is what, Kärcher admits that observational data on contrail cirrus is scarce — their irregular shape makes them hard to distinguish from natural cirrus clouds.

Significantly, contrail cirrus can be transported hundreds of kilometres from its origin, and extend as much as 100,000 square kilometres, Kärcher reveals. And increasingly it’s being recognised as a key contributor to global dimming — the increasing reduction in solar radiation hitting Earth since the 1950s — as well as global warming. Jet contrails may account for 57 per cent of the climate impacts of aviation, according to a 2021 BBC article.

Contrails or chemtrails?

Ultimately, what you believe comes down to who you trust. The gagging of government scientists and weather employees on “politically sensitive” topics also needs to be taken into account. In a survey of 1586 US EPA scientists by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2007, for instance, 60 per cent had personally experienced at least one incident of political interference in their work, including pressure to change scientific findings, in the previous five years.

“Knowing the ramifications, is it not an incredibly naive notion that governments around the world would ask our permission to do this?” Wigington argues. “Did they ask our permission to detonate 2,400 nuclear bombs that contaminated the entire planet?”

“The evidence as evaluated here does not point to a secret atmospheric spraying program,” Caldeira and his co-authors conclude in their Environmental Research Letters study. They blame any increase in sky trails and aerosol chemicals on the rise in aircraft traffic, changes in aircraft technologies and industrial development.

And yet a 2014 update of the EPA Aircraft Contrails Factsheet admits that cloud seeding, fire suppression and other unspecified aerial spraying measures have historically been undertaken by commercial, private and military aviation.

What’s certain: the debate over the origin of the sky trails won’t go away any time soon.

Linda Moon is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer and a qualified naturopath based in Katoomba, NSW.

Linda Moon

Linda Moon

Linda Moon is a freelance feature writer reporting on health, travel, food and local producers, work, parenting, relationships and other lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in International Traveller, Voyeur (Virgin Airlines magazine), Jetstar Asia, Slow Living, Traveller, Domain, My Career, Life & Style and Sunday Life (Sydney Morning Herald), Sprout, NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, Nature & Health, Australian Natural Health, Fernwood Fitness, The New Daily, SBS, Essential Kids, Australian Family, Weekend Notes, The Big Bus Tour & Travel Guide and more.

Based in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, Linda is a qualified and experienced naturopath, spa and massage therapist and a partly trained social worker.

Her writing interests focus on health, responsible consumerism, exploring beautiful places and the quest for a fairer, healthier and happier world for all.

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