German researchers argue that attempts to artificially geoengineer the earth’s climate would likely cause worse effects than presently forecasted climate change trends. David Keller and colleagues from the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany report findings based on an earth system model that replicated five different strategies to reduce global warming and help prevent wide-scale climate change.
Geoengineering, or reducing the levels of sunlight hitting the planet’s surface through “solar radiation management,” has been broadly dismissed since it could change rainfall patterns, worsen conditions in arid zones, or cause irreversible harm once the technology’s use ceased.
The Helmholtz researchers suggest a good many alternatives remain for a “technofix.” One is to utilize the appetite of plant life for carbon dioxide. This might include irrigating the Australian and Sahara deserts to cultivate forests that will soak up more carbon. Another involves nurturing the ocean surface waters by driving nutrient-rich bottom water up to the surface to promote algae blooms across the oceans. A third is to add lime to the oceans and chemically increase the uptake of carbon dioxide. Seafaring ships might spread the trace element iron across the ocean surfaces, giving plankton a chance to bloom, grow, die and taking carbon down to the seabed.
Still, the authors note that such measures will have limited effectiveness without further cutbacks in carbon-based greenhouse emissions. “We find that even when applied continuously at scales as large as now deemed possible, all methods are, individually, either relatively ineffective with limited warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change,” the investigators write.
Tim Radford, “Why Messing with The Earth’s Climate to Reverse Greenhouse Gas Emissions Could Make Everything Worse,” AlterNet, March 14, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/environment/geo-engineering-can-make-climate-change-worse.
David P. Keller, Ellias Y. Feng and Andreas Oschlies, “Potential climate engineering effectiveness and side effects during a high carbon dioxide-emission scenario,” Nature Communiations, February 25, 2014, http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140225/ncomms4304/full/ncomms4304.html.
Student Researcher: Nicholas DePietro (Florida Atlantic University)
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