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Title: An overview of the Earth system science of solar geoengineering: Overview of the earth system science of solar geoengineering

Abstract

Solar geoengineering has been proposed as a means to cool the planet by increasing the reflection of sunlight back to space, for example by injecting reflective aerosol particles into the middle atmosphere. Such proposals are not able to physically substitute for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions as a response to the risks of climate change, but might eventually be applied as a complementary approach to reduce climate risks. Thus, the Earth system consequences of solar geoengineering are central to understanding its potentials and risks. Here we review the state-of-the-art knowledge about geoengineering by stratospheric sulphate aerosol injection. We examine the common responses found in studies of an idealized form of solar geoengineering, in which the intensity of incoming sunlight is directly reduced in models. The studies reviewed are consistent in suggesting that solar geoengineering would generally reduce the differences in climate in comparison to future scenarios with elevated greenhouse gas concentrations and no solar geoengineering. However, it is clear that a solar geoengineered climate would be novel in some respects, for example a notable reduction in the intensity of the hydrological cycle. We provide an overview of the unique aspects of the response to stratospheric aerosol injection and the uncertaintiesmore » around its consequences. We also consider the issues raised by the partial control over the climate that solar geoengineering would allow. Finally, this overview also highlights the key research gaps that will need to be resolved in order to effectively guide future decisions on the potential use of solar geoengineering.« less

Authors:
ORCiD logo [1];  [2];  [3]; ORCiD logo [4]
  1. Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam Germany; John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), University of Harvard, Cambridge MA USA
  2. Atmospheric Sciences and Global Change Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland WA USA
  3. Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam Germany
  4. Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo Norway
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
1342307
Report Number(s):
PNNL-SA-116097
Journal ID: ISSN 1757-7780; 400403809
DOE Contract Number:
AC05-76RL01830
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change; Journal Volume: 7; Journal Issue: 6
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
58 GEOSCIENCES

Citation Formats

Irvine, Peter J., Kravitz, Ben, Lawrence, Mark G., and Muri, Helene. An overview of the Earth system science of solar geoengineering: Overview of the earth system science of solar geoengineering. United States: N. p., 2016. Web. doi:10.1002/wcc.423.
Irvine, Peter J., Kravitz, Ben, Lawrence, Mark G., & Muri, Helene. An overview of the Earth system science of solar geoengineering: Overview of the earth system science of solar geoengineering. United States. doi:10.1002/wcc.423.
Irvine, Peter J., Kravitz, Ben, Lawrence, Mark G., and Muri, Helene. 2016. "An overview of the Earth system science of solar geoengineering: Overview of the earth system science of solar geoengineering". United States. doi:10.1002/wcc.423.
@article{osti_1342307,
title = {An overview of the Earth system science of solar geoengineering: Overview of the earth system science of solar geoengineering},
author = {Irvine, Peter J. and Kravitz, Ben and Lawrence, Mark G. and Muri, Helene},
abstractNote = {Solar geoengineering has been proposed as a means to cool the planet by increasing the reflection of sunlight back to space, for example by injecting reflective aerosol particles into the middle atmosphere. Such proposals are not able to physically substitute for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions as a response to the risks of climate change, but might eventually be applied as a complementary approach to reduce climate risks. Thus, the Earth system consequences of solar geoengineering are central to understanding its potentials and risks. Here we review the state-of-the-art knowledge about geoengineering by stratospheric sulphate aerosol injection. We examine the common responses found in studies of an idealized form of solar geoengineering, in which the intensity of incoming sunlight is directly reduced in models. The studies reviewed are consistent in suggesting that solar geoengineering would generally reduce the differences in climate in comparison to future scenarios with elevated greenhouse gas concentrations and no solar geoengineering. However, it is clear that a solar geoengineered climate would be novel in some respects, for example a notable reduction in the intensity of the hydrological cycle. We provide an overview of the unique aspects of the response to stratospheric aerosol injection and the uncertainties around its consequences. We also consider the issues raised by the partial control over the climate that solar geoengineering would allow. Finally, this overview also highlights the key research gaps that will need to be resolved in order to effectively guide future decisions on the potential use of solar geoengineering.},
doi = {10.1002/wcc.423},
journal = {Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change},
number = 6,
volume = 7,
place = {United States},
year = 2016,
month = 7
}
  • Anthropogenic aerosol impacts on clouds constitute the largest source of uncertainty in quantifying the radiative forcing of climate, and hinders our ability to determine Earth's climate sensitivity to greenhouse gas increases. Representation of aerosol–cloud interactions in global models is particularly challenging because these interactions occur on typically unresolved scales. Observational studies show influences of aerosol on clouds, but correlations between aerosol and clouds are insufficient to constrain aerosol forcing because of the difficulty in separating aerosol and meteorological impacts. In this commentary, we argue that this current impasse may be overcome with the development of approaches to conduct control experimentsmore » whereby aerosol particle perturbations can be introduced into patches of marine low clouds in a systematic manner. Such cloud perturbation experiments constitute a fresh approach to climate science and would provide unprecedented data to untangle the effects of aerosol particles on cloud microphysics and the resulting reflection of solar radiation by clouds. Here, the control experiments would provide a critical test of high-resolution models that are used to develop an improved representation aerosol–cloud interactions needed to better constrain aerosol forcing in global climate models.« less
  • If solar radiation management (SRM) were ever implemented, feedback of the observed climate state might be used to adjust the radiative forcing of SRM, in order to compensate for uncertainty in either the forcing or the climate response; this would also compensate for unexpected changes in the system, e.g. a nonlinear change in climate sensitivity. This feedback creates an emergent coupled human-climate system, with entirely new dynamics. In addition to the intended response to greenhouse-gas induced changes, the use of feedback would also result in a geoengineering response to natural climate variability. We use a simple box-diffusion dynamic model tomore » understand how changing feedback-control parameters and time delay affect the behavior of this coupled natural-human system, and verify these predictions using the HadCM3L general circulation model. In particular, some amplification of natural variability is unavoidable; any time delay (e.g., to average out natural variability, or due to decision-making) exacerbates this amplification, with oscillatory behavior possible if there is a desire for rapid correction (high feedback gain), but a delayed response needed for decision making. Conversely, the need for feedback to compensate for uncertainty, combined with a desire to avoid excessive amplification, results in a limit on how rapidly SRM could respond to uncertain changes.« less
  • Geoengineering methods are intended to reduce the magnitude of climate change, which is already having demonstrable effects on ecosystem structure and functioning. Two different types of activities have been proposed: solar radiation management (SRM), or sunlight reflection methods, which involves reflecting a small percentage of solar light back into space to offset the warming due to greenhouse gases, and carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which includes a range of engineered and biological processes to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This report evaluates some of the possible impacts of CDR and SRM on the physical climate and their subsequent influencemore » on ecosystems, which include the risks and uncertainties associated with new kinds of purposeful perturbations to the Earth. Therefore, the question considered in this review is whether CDR and SRM methods would exacerbate or alleviate the deleterious impacts on ecosystems associated with climate changes that might occur in the foreseeable future.Geoengineering methods are intended to reduce the magnitude of climate change, which is already having demonstrable effects on ecosystem structure and functioning. Two different types of activities have been proposed: solar radiation management (SRM), or sunlight reflection methods, which involves reflecting a small percentage of solar light back into space to offset the warming due to greenhouse gases, and carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which includes a range of engineered and biological processes to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This report evaluates some of the possible impacts of CDR and SRM on the physical climate and their subsequent influence on ecosystems, which include the risks and uncertainties associated with new kinds of purposeful perturbations to the Earth. Therefore, the question considered in this review is whether CDR and SRM methods would exacerbate or alleviate the deleterious impacts on ecosystems associated with climate changes that might occur in the foreseeable future.« less