Study Creates Roadmap For Responsible Geoengineering Research

The idea of releasing sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, mimicking the eruption of a volcano. (Image: via Pixabay)

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, and some outright scared, of the process. A new study, “Mission-Driven Research for Stratospheric Aerosol Geoengineering,” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sets out to establish a roadmap for responsible exploration of geoengineering. Lead author Douglas MacMartin, senior research associate and senior lecturer in mechanical and aerospace engineering, said:

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While scientific research traditionally has been motivated by the innate curiosity of scientists grappling with an interesting question, this study finds that geoengineering requires a more mission-driven approach with a clear goal: informing policy. MacMartin added:

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. That’s important because the study finds that near-term geoengineering research will primarily be modeling. MacMartin said:

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. Kravitz said:

Geoengineering a supplement to reducing emissions

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, saying:

Provided by: David Nutt, Cornell University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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