From the Carnegie Institution , not just aerosol injections, but effective aersol injections. Law of unintended consequences be damned.
Improving effectiveness of solar geoengineering
Washington, D.C.— Solar radiation management is a type of geoengineering that would manipulate the climate in order to reduce the impact of global warming caused by greenhouse gasses. Ideas include increasing the amount of aerosols in the stratosphere, which could scatter incoming solar light away from Earth’s surface, or creating low-altitude marine clouds to reflect these same rays.
Research models have indicated that the climatic effect of this type of geoengineering will vary by region, because the climate systems respond differently to the reflecting substances than they do to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that traps warmth in Earth’s atmosphere. New work from a team including Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira uses a climate model to look at maximizing the effectiveness of solar radiation management techniques. Their work is published October 21st by Nature Climate Change.
Attempting to counteract the warming effect of greenhouse gases with a uniform layer of aerosols in the stratosphere, would cool the tropics much more than it affects polar areas. Greenhouse gases tend to suppress precipitation and an offsetting reduction in amount of sunlight absorbed by Earth would not restore this precipitation. Both greenhouse gases and aerosols affect the distribution of heat and rain on this planet, but they change temperature and precipitation in different ways in different places. Varying the amount of sunlight deflected away from the Earth both regionally and seasonally could combat some of this problem.
By tailoring geoengineering efforts by region and by need, the team—led by California Institute of Technology’s Douglas MacMartin—was able to explore ways to maximize effectiveness while minimizing the side effects and risks of this type of planetary intervention.
“These results indicate that varying geoengineering efforts by region and over different periods of time could potentially improve the effectiveness of solar geoengineering and reduce climate impacts in at-risk areas,” Caldeira said. “For example, these approaches may be able to reverse long-term changes in the Arctic sea ice.”
The study used a sophisticated climate model, but the team’s model is still much simpler than the real world. Interference in Earth’s climate system, whether intentional or unintentional, is likely to produce unanticipated outcomes.
“We have to expect the unexpected,” Caldeira added. “The safest way to reduce climate risk is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
David Keith of Harvard and Ben Kravitz, formerly of Carnegie but now at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Lab, are co-authors on the study.
The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
Here’s another similar press release on the same topic, sort of a “climate justice” spin:
Targeting solar geoengineering to minimize risk and inequality
October 21, 2012
New study suggests that solar geoengineering can be tailored to reduce inequality or to manage specific risks like the loss of Arctic sea ice
Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, D.C. – October 21, 2012 – By tailoring geoengineering efforts by region and by need, a new model promises to maximize the effectiveness of solar radiation management while mitigating its potential side effects and risks. Developed by a team of leading researchers, the study was published in the November issue of Nature Climate Change.
Solar geoengineering, the goal of which is to offset the global warming caused by greenhouse gases, involves reflecting sunlight back into space. By increasing the concentrations of aerosols in the stratosphere or by creating low-altitude marine clouds, the as-yet hypothetical solar geoengineering projects would scatter incoming solar heat away from the Earth’s surface.
Critics of geoengineering have long warned that such a global intervention would have unequal effects around the world and could result in unforeseen consequences. They argue that the potential gains may not be worth the risk.
“Our research goes a step beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to explore how careful tailoring of solar geoengineering can reduce possible inequalities and risks,” says co-author David Keith (pictured at right), Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. “Instead, we can be thoughtful about various tradeoffs to achieve more selective results, such as the trade-off between minimizing global climate changes and minimizing residual changes at the worst-off location.”
The study—developed in collaboration with Douglas G. MacMartin of the California Institute of Technology, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Ben Kravitz, formerly of Carnegie and now at the Department of Energy—explores the feasibility of using solar geoengineering to counter the loss of Arctic sea ice.
“There has been a lot of loose talk about region-specific climate modification. By contrast, our research uses a more systematic approach to understand how geoengineering might be used to limit a specific impact. We found that tailored solar geoengineering might limit Arctic sea ice loss with several times less total solar shading than would be needed in a uniform case.”
Generally speaking, greenhouse gases tend to suppress precipitation, and an offsetting reduction in the amount of sunlight absorbed by Earth would not restore this precipitation. Both greenhouse gases and aerosols affect the distribution of heat and rain on this planet, but they change the temperature and precipitation in different ways in different places. The researchers suggest that varying the amount of sunlight deflected away from the Earth both regionally and seasonally could combat some of this problem.
“These results indicate that varying geoengineering efforts by region and over different periods of time could potentially improve the effectiveness of solar geoengineering and reduce climate impacts in at-risk areas,” says co-author Ken Caldeira, Senior Scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
The researchers note that while their study used a state-of-the-art model, any real-world estimates of the possible impact of solar radiation management would need to take into account various uncertainties. Further, any interference in Earth’s climate system, whether intentional or unintentional, is likely to produce unanticipated outcomes.
“While more work needs to be done, we have a strong model that indicates that solar geoengineering might be used in a far more nuanced manner than the uniform one-size-fits-all implementation that is often assumed. One might say that one need not think of it as a single global thermostat. This gives us hope that if we ever do need to implement engineered solutions to combat global warming, that we would do so with a bit more confidence and a great ability to test it and control it.”
The authors declare no competing financial interests.