Cocktail geoengineering could fight climate change

Cocktail geoengineering, or the use of different tools to alter the earth’s energy balance, could help combat climate change, new research has revealed. In some cases, it could decrease global warming to pre-industrial levels.

Geoengineering refers to theoretical ideas for altering the earth’s energy balance to fight global warming and climate change.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels cause the earth to get hotter and affect weather patterns.

Now, new research has highlighted the potential of using a cocktail of geoengineering tools to reduce these changes in temperature and precipitation caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases.

So-called solar geoengineering aims to cool the planet by dispersing the light-scattering particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of major volcanic eruptions.

However, climate-modelling studies have shown that while this scattering of sunlight should reduce the warming caused by greenhouse gases, it would also reduce rainfall to less than optimal levels.

Another approach involves the thinning of high cirrus clouds, which are involved in regulating the amount of heat that escapes from the planet. Although this would reduce warming, it would not correct the increase in precipitation caused by climate change.

To solve these problems, the research team created a cocktail of methods. They used models to simulate what would happen if sunlight were scattered by particles at the same time as the cirrus clouds were thinned.

Their simulations showed that if both methods were deployed in tandem, global warming would decrease to pre-industrial levels. Rainfall would also stay at pre-industrial levels. However, some areas would get much wetter and others much drier.

“The same amount of rain fell around the globe in our models, but it fell in different places, which could create a big mismatch between what our economic infrastructure expects and what it will get,” explained Ken Caldeira of The Carnegie Institution for Science in a statement. “More complicated geoengineering solutions would likely do a bit better.”

The research was part of an effort to understand the effectiveness and consequences of proposed strategies for reducing climate change.

Photo credit: Marcelo Albuquerque/ CC BY-ND 2.0

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