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Effectiveness of stratospheric solar-radiation management as a function of climate sensitivity

Nature Climate Change volume 2, pages 9296 (2012) | Download Citation


If implementation of proposals to engineer the climate through solar-radiation management (SRM) ever occurs, it is likely to be contingent on climate sensitivity. However, modelling studies examining the effectiveness of SRM as a strategy to offset anthropogenic climate change have used only the standard parameterizations of atmosphere–ocean general circulation models that yield climate sensitivities close to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project mean. Here, we use a perturbed-physics ensemble modelling experiment to examine how the response of the climate to SRM implemented in the stratosphere (SRM-S) varies under different greenhouse-gas climate sensitivities. When SRM-S is used to compensate for rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, its effectiveness in stabilizing regional climates diminishes with increasing climate sensitivity. However, the potential of SRM-S to slow down unmitigated climate change, even regionally, increases with climate sensitivity. On average, in variants of the model with higher sensitivity, SRM-S reduces regional rates of temperature change by more than 90% and rates of precipitation change by more than 50%.

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The authors thank the cpdn participants for their donations of computing power, without which the experiment would not have been possible. We thank M. R. Allen for advice in the design of the experiment, M. I. Thurston and N. R. Massey for deployment of the experiment through the cpdn system and J. B. Moreno-Cruz for comments on the manuscript. K.L.R. acknowledges support from a US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. D.J.R. was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) PhD studentship with a Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering award from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Wallingford. W.J.I. was supported by NERC contract NE/D012287/1 and European Union Framework Programme 6 contract 036946. K.L.R., D.W.K. and M.G.M. acknowledge the support of the Climate Decision Making Center (SES-0345798) and the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making (SES-0949710), both funded by the US National Science Foundation.

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    • Katharine L. Ricke

    Present address: Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, 260 Panama Avenue, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • David W. Keith

    Present address: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA


  1. Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, 129 Baker Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA

    • Katharine L. Ricke
    •  & M. Granger Morgan
  2. Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Clarendon Laboratory, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK

    • Daniel J. Rowlands
    •  & William J. Ingram
  3. Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB, UK

    • William J. Ingram
  4. ISEEE Energy and Environmental Systems Group, University of Calgary, Earth Sciences, ES 602, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada

    • David W. Keith


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K.L.R. and D.J.R. designed the experiment. K.L.R. carried out the data analysis. K.L.R., D.J.R., W.J.I., D.W.K. and M.G.M. discussed the results and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katharine L. Ricke.

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