Could Climate Engineering Worsen Global Warming? 1

Friday, December 6th, 2013
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A team of scientists has claimed that efforts to reverse climate change via geo-engineering could actually worsen global warming if pursued intermittently.

A new study put out by the international team claims that while geo-engineering could be a stopgap means of mitigating climate change, it will also exacerbate problems if brought to an abrupt conclusion following long-term implementation.

The study, entitled The Impact of Abrupt Suspension of Solar Radiation Management has been published in Journal of Geophysical Research online, and saw the participation of academics from the University of Exeter in the UK and Rutgers University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the United States.

Their collaborative research examined the long-term impact on the planet of the implementation of solar radiation management (SRM), which involves the dispersal of water vapour or sulfur aerosols to generate atmospheric shading, thus achieving a reduction in global warming by reflecting the sun’s radiation.

The research team used a set of 12 models to determine the results of the implementation of a large-scale SRM  program for a period of half a century prior to abrupt termination of such efforts.

They discovered that the upshot of such a program would actually serve the very opposite of its intended purpose – an accelerated rise in global mean temperature in the wake of its sudden discontinuation, accompanied by gains in global precipitation rates and a diminution in the volume of seaborne ice.

Geo-engineering facilities

According to the study, the gains made in mitigating climate change over a half century of SRM implementation would be reversed in the space of under a decade.

The accelerated pace of the resulting changes would also have a far worse impact than the gradual process of warming which would take place in the absence of SRM, as it would not give ecosystems the time or opportunity to adjust.

“The ability of ecosystems to respond can be compromised if the changes are too rapid,” wrote the authors of the study.

The authors conclude that geo-engineering should not be considered a “cure” for climate change, given the scale of the measures required and the adverse impact of their discontinuation.

“The expectation that humankind would be able to continuously maintain a geoengineering effort at the required level for this length of time is questionable, to say the least,” state the authors.

The study also confirmed prior speculation that the implementation of geo-engineering methods could in and of itself be a source of environmental woe. Attempting to keep one key parameter of the climate steady could have ramifications for another, and geo-engineering methods that seek to maintain temperature will lead to a reduction in precipitation.

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  1. Julien Lacve

    Interesting discussion to have