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A solar reflector for the earth? Researchers are investigating the potential risks and benefits



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Credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Nine of the hottest years in human history have taken place in the last decade. Without a major shift in this climate path, the life of the future on earth is in doubt. Should people whose fossil-fueled societies lead to climate change use technology to slow global warming?


Every month since September 201

9, the Working Group on Climate Intervention Biology, a team of internationally recognized experts in climate science and ecology, has gathered to bring science to bear this issue and the implications of geotechnics on a cooler earth by reflecting off some of the sun’s radiation. from the planet – a climate intervention strategy known as solar radiation modification (SRM).

The group’s usual paper, “Potential Ecological Effects of Climate Intervention by Reflecting Sunlight to Cool the Earth”, was published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Participating in this working group has been quite eye-opening for me,” said co-author Peter Groffman, an ecosystem ecologist at the Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “I was not aware that the modeling of climate intervention was so advanced, and I think the climate models were not aware of the complexity of the ecological systems involved. It is a strong reminder of the importance of the need for interdisciplinary analysis of complex problems in Environmental Science. “

The interdisciplinary team is led by Phoebe Zarnetske, a social ecologist and associate professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Integrative Biology and the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior and Ecology program, and Jessica Gurevitch, a senior professor at Stony Brook University’s Department of Ecology and Evolution.

Conversations between Gurevitch and climate scientist Alan Robock, an outstanding professor at the Department of Environmental Science at Rutgers University, gave rise to the groundbreaking group, which is more aware than most that geotechnics Earth’s atmosphere is more than just a science fiction scenario.

“There is a lack of knowledge about the impact of climate intervention on ecology,” Zarnetske said. “As scientists, we need to understand and predict the positive and negative effects it can have on the natural world, identify important knowledge gaps and begin to predict what impact it may have on soil, sea and freshwater species and ecosystems, if it was adopted in the future. “

The costs and technology needed to reflect the sun’s heat back into space are currently more achievable than other ideas for climate interventions such as carbon dioxide absorption.2) from the air. The working group anticipates their lively discussions and open access paper will encourage an explosion of scientific research into how a climate intervention strategy known as solar radiation modification (SRM) along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions will affect the natural world.

The possibility of a plan-wide SRM effort is related to accurate predictions of its innumerable results provided by the well-established computer simulations of the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP). That PNAS paper lays the foundation for extending GeoMIP’s scope to include the incredible variety and diversity of Earth’s ecosystems.

“While climate models have become quite advanced in predicting climate results from different geo-engineering scenarios, we have very little understanding of what the potential risks of these scenarios may be for species and natural systems,” Gurevitch explained. “Is the risk of extinction, species change and the need for organisms to migrate to survive under SRM greater than the risk of climate change, or does SRM reduce the risks caused by climate change?”

“Most of the GeoMIP models only simulate abiotic variables, but what about all the living things that are affected by the climate and are dependent on energy from the sun?” Zarnetske added. “We need to better understand the possible consequences of SRM on everything from soil microorganisms to monarch butterfly migrations to marine systems.”

Zarnetske’s Spatial and Community Ecology Lab (SpaCE Lab) specializes in predicting how ecological communities respond to climate change across scales from the microcosm to the global, making it uniquely ready to help the working group illuminate vital data for future SRMs. scenarios such as stratospheric aerosol intervention (SAI), the focus of the paper.

SAI would reduce some of the sun’s incoming radiation by reflecting sunlight back into space, similar to what happens after large volcanic eruptions. Theoretically, it would be possible to continuously refill the cloud and check its thickness and location to achieve a desired target temperature.

But the paper reveals the investigated complexity of cascade relationships between ecosystem function and climate under different SAI scenarios. In fact, they argue that mitigation of climate change must continue regardless of whether SRMs are adopted, and the question remains whether some or any SRMs can be beneficial in addition to efforts to reduce carbon.

“Although SAI can cool the earth’s surface down to a global temperature target, cooling can be unevenly distributed and affect many ecosystem functions and biodiversity,” Zarnetske said. “Precipitation and ultraviolet surface radiation would change, and SAI would increase acid rain and would not mitigate ocean acidification.”

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

“We hope this paper will provide much more awareness on this topic and greater collaboration between scientists in the field of climate science and ecology,” Gurevitch added.

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


Geotechnics is only a partial solution to combat climate change


More information:
Phoebe L. Zarnetske et al., “Potential Ecological Effects of Climate Invention by Reflecting Sunlight to Cool the Earth,” PNAS (2021). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1921854118

Provided by Graduate Center, CUNY

Citation: A solar reflector for the earth? Researchers Examine the Potential Risks and Benefits (2021, April 5) Retrieved April 6, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-sun-reflector-earth-scientists-explore.html

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