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A sun reflector for the Earth? Scientists are exploring the potential risks and benefits


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Nine of the hottest years in human history have occurred in the last decade. Without much change in this climate trajectory, the future of life on Earth is in question. Should people whose fossil fuel-driven society drive climate change use technology to sustain global warming?

Every month since September 201

9, the Climate Intervention Working Group on Biology, a team of internationally recognized experts in the field of climate science and ecology, meets remotely to bring science to this issue and the implications of geoengineering on a cooler Earth, such as reflects some of the sun’s radiation away from the planet – a climate intervention strategy known as a modification of solar radiation (SRM).

The main report of the group “Potential environmental impacts of climate intervention by reflecting sunlight to cool the Earth” is published in the latest Notices of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Participating in this working group opens my eyes a lot,” said co-author Peter Groffman, an ecosystem ecologist at The Graduate Center, CUNY and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Research. “I was not aware that climate intervention modeling was so advanced and I think climate models were not aware of the complexity of the ecosystems affected. This is a strong reminder of the importance of a multidisciplinary analysis of complex environmental science problems. “

The interdisciplinary team is led by Phoebe Zarnecke, a community ecologist and associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Program at Michigan State University, and ecologist Jessica Gurevich, a prominent professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Ecology and Evolution.

Conversations between Gurevich and climate scientist Alan Robock, a prominent professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, have sparked a pioneering group that is more aware than most that geoengineering the Earth’s atmosphere is more than a science fiction script.

“There is a lack of knowledge about the effects of climate intervention on the environment,” Zarnecke said. “As scientists, we need to understand and predict the positive and negative effects it could have on the natural world, identify key knowledge gaps and begin to predict what impact it may have on terrestrial, marine and freshwater species and ecosystems if is so accepted in the future. “

At present, the costs and technology required to reflect solar heat back into space are more achievable than other climate intervention ideas, such as carbon dioxide absorption (CO2) from the air. The working group looks forward to their lively discussions, and the open access document will encourage an explosion of research into how a climate intervention strategy known as solar radiation modification (SRM), in tandem with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, will affect the natural world. .

The applicability of the planet’s SRM efforts depends on accurate predictions of the myriad results provided by the well-established computer simulations of the GeoMIP model comparison project. The PNAS the paper lays the foundation for expanding the reach of GeoMIP to include the incredible reach and diversity of terrestrial ecosystems.

“While climate models have become quite advanced in predicting climate outcomes for different geoengineering scenarios, we have very little understanding of the possible risks of these scenarios to species and natural systems,” Gurevich explained. “Are the risks of extinction, species change and the need for organisms to migrate to survive URM greater than those of climate change, or is the CPM reducing the risks caused by climate change?”

“Most GeoMIP models only simulate abiotic variables, but what about all living things that are affected by the climate and rely on solar energy?” Add Zarnetske. “We need to better understand the possible impact of SRM on everything from soil microorganisms to the migration of monarch butterflies to marine systems.”

Zarnetske’s Spa and Community Ecology Laboratory (SpaCE Lab) specializes in forecasting how ecological communities respond to climate change on a variety of scales from microcosm to global, making it uniquely ready to assist the working group in shedding light on vital data for future scenarios for SRM such as stratospheric aerosol intervention (SAI), the focus of the article.

The SAI will reduce some of the incoming solar radiation by reflecting sunlight back into space, similar to what happens after large volcanic eruptions. Theoretically, it would be possible to continuously fill the cloud and control its thickness and location to achieve the desired target temperature.

But the article reveals the understudied complexity of the cascading relationship between ecosystem function and climate in different SAI scenarios. In fact, they argue that climate change mitigation must continue regardless of whether the RBM is adopted, and the question remains whether some or any RMS can be beneficial in addition to decarbonisation efforts.

“Although SAIs can cool the Earth’s surface to a target global temperature, cooling can be unevenly distributed, affecting many ecosystem functions and biodiversity,” Zarnecke said. “Precipitation and surface ultraviolet radiation will change, and SAIs will increase acid rain and will not mitigate ocean acidification.”

In other words, SRM is not a magic bullet to tackle climate change. While the working group’s efforts did not inspire new research into the effects of different climate intervention scenarios, SRM is more like a shot in the dark.

“We hope that this document will provoke much more attention on this issue and greater cooperation between scientists in the field of climate science and ecology,” Gurevich added.

The Climate Intervention Working Group on Biology is funded by the National Science Foundation and will host sessions of two upcoming scientific conferences: The Biosphere Responses to Geoengineering at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Environmental Society of America in August 2021

Geoengineering is only a partial solution to combat climate change

More info:
Phoebe L. Zarnetske el al., “Potential Environmental Impacts of Climate Intervention by Reflecting Sunlight to Cool the Earth,” PNAS (2021). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1921854118

Provided by Graduate Center, CUNY

Quote: Solar reflector for the Earth? Researchers are exploring the potential risks and benefits (2021, April 5) extracted on April 6, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-sun-reflector-earth-scientists-explore.html

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