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


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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Figure 1: Time series of temperature and precipitation of the no-SRM, low-SRM and high-SRM scenarios examined, with initial-condition subensembles averaged for each of the 43 PPE model configurations analysed.
Figure 2: Example of regional responses to A1B and SRM-S forcings in units of standard deviations (s.d.) for two model variants and two regions.
Figure 3: Mean regional values of OD*, the amount of optical depth modification that returns each regional climate closest to its baseline state (the origin in Fig. 2), plotted against 2050 forecast warming of the model variant for decadal means about 2030, 2050 and 2070.
Figure 4: Regional rates of change plotted against 2050 forecast warming of the model variant.


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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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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.

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Correspondence to Katharine L. Ricke.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ricke, K., Rowlands, D., Ingram, W. et al. Effectiveness of stratospheric solar-radiation management as a function of climate sensitivity. Nature Clim Change 2, 92–96 (2012).

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