Nav: Home

Future of planet-cooling tech: Study creates roadmap for geoengineering research

January 08, 2019

ITHACA, N.Y. - Simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions probably is not going to be sufficient for the planet to escape catastrophic damage from climate change, scientists say.

Additional actions will be required, and one option is solar geoengineering, which could lower temperatures by methods such as reflecting sunlight away from the Earth through the deployment of aerosols in the stratosphere. However, the prospect of experimenting with the Earth's atmosphere has left some people skeptical of the process.

A new study, "Mission-Driven Research for Stratospheric Aerosol Geoengineering," published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sets out to establish a roadmap for responsible exploration of geoengineering.

"Part of the genesis of this paper is that a long time ago I got tired of going to meetings and not being able to say much more than, 'If you do geoengineering, it will get colder,'" said lead author Douglas MacMartin, senior research associate and senior lecturer in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University.

"We actually need to do the research to understand what the impacts are and understand the uncertainties," MacMartin said.

This study finds that geoengineering requires a mission-driven approach with a clear goal: informing policy.

"It's the research community's responsibility to ensure that before people get to a point of saying, 'Let's consider using geoengineering,' we're able to provide enough information to either say 'No, here's why not' or 'If you were to do it, this is the best way to do it, here is what we think the impacts are, here are the uncertainties,'" MacMartin said.

The study, which MacMartin co-authored with Ben Kravitz, assistant professor at Indiana University, focuses on the idea of releasing sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, mimicking the eruption of a volcano. This follows a natural process and thus would limit the "unknown unknowns" and enable researchers to calibrate their models.

"The research is always going to be very small scale, so there's a bright line between activities that look like research and activities that look like deployment," MacMartin said. "Engaging in geoengineering research itself doesn't have to be scary."

Given that a recent report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that global warming will pass 1.5 C around 2040, MacMartin sees an urgent need to start making inroads in exploring geoengineering research. It could take up to 20 years before scientists can help policymakers make an informed decision about the effectiveness of the technology.

MacMartin said geoengineering should be viewed as a supplement to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not a substitution. He likes to think of the process as an airbag.

"If you know you're going to get into an accident, you ought to take your foot off the gas and put it on the brake, but you might want airbags, too," MacMartin said. "The airbag doesn't change the fact you're going to get into an accident, but it does mean you'll have less damage."
-end-
The research was supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

Cornell University

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".