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Detection limits of albedo changes induced by climate engineering

An Erratum to this article was published on 26 February 2014

This article has been updated

Abstract

A key question surrounding proposals for climate engineering by increasing Earth's reflection of sunlight is the feasibility of detecting engineered albedo increases from short-duration experiments or prolonged implementation of solar-radiation management. We show that satellite observations permit detection of large increases, but interannual variability overwhelms the maximum conceivable albedo increases for some schemes. Detection of an abrupt global average albedo increase <0.002 (comparable to a 0.7 W m−2 reduction in radiative forcing) would be unlikely within a year, given a five-year prior record. A three-month experiment in the equatorial zone (5° N–5° S), a potential target for stratospheric aerosol injection, would need to cause an 0.03 albedo increase, three times larger than that due to the Mount Pinatubo eruption, to be detected. Detection limits for three-month experiments in 1° (latitude and longitude) regions of the subtropical Pacific, possible targets for cloud brightening, are 0.2, which is larger than might be expected from some model simulations.

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Figure 1: Albedo climatology and detection limit maps.
Figure 2: Global and regional albedo time series.
Figure 3: Global albedo detection probabilities.
Figure 4: Regional albedo detection limits.
Figure 5: Detectability of field experiments.

Change history

  • 29 January 2014

    In the version of this Perspective originally published, the final phrase of the abstract should have read 'are 0.2, which is larger than might be expected from some model simulations.' Additionally, the affiliation number for Norman Loeb was missing in the address list. These errors have been corrected in the online versions of the Perspective.

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Correspondence to Dian J. Seidel.

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Seidel, D., Feingold, G., Jacobson, A. et al. Detection limits of albedo changes induced by climate engineering. Nature Clim Change 4, 93–98 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2076

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