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Regional climate response to solar-radiation management


Concerns about the slow pace of climate mitigation have led to renewed dialogue about solar-radiation management, which could be achieved by adding reflecting aerosols to the stratosphere1,2,3,4,5,6. Modelling studies suggest that solar-radiation management could produce stabilized global temperatures and reduced global precipitation4,5,6. Here we present an analysis of regional differences in a climate modified by solar-radiation management, using a large-ensemble modelling experiment that examines the impacts of 54 scenarios for global temperature stabilization. Our results confirm that solar-radiation management would generally lead to less extreme temperature and precipitation anomalies, compared with unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions. However, they also illustrate that it is physically not feasible to stabilize global precipitation and temperature simultaneously as long as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise. Over time, simulated temperature and precipitation in large regions such as China and India vary significantly with different trajectories for solar-radiation management, and they diverge from historical baselines in different directions. Hence, it may not be possible to stabilize the climate in all regions simultaneously using solar-radiation management. Regional diversity in the response to different levels of solar-radiation management could make consensus about the optimal level of geoengineering difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

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Figure 1: Time series of global optical depth, temperature and precipitation of the 54 scenarios examined.
Figure 2: Relationship between change in precipitation rate as a function of change in global-mean near-surface air temperature and equivalent carbon dioxide concentration.
Figure 3: Modelled response to different levels of average global solar-radiation management (SRM) over time in India and China.
Figure 4: ‘Optimal’ solar-radiation management (SRM) scenarios for the summer for each region.


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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 T. Aina, D. Rowlands and the cpdn team for deployment of the experiment through the cpdn system, P. Stier and H. Yamazaki for advice and supervision during experimental design, W. Ingram for providing HadCM3 model diagnostics and comments on multiple drafts, and D. Keith for suggestions on the analyses. K.L.R. acknowledges support from a US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the ARCS Foundation. K.L.R. and M.G.M. acknowledge the support of the Climate Decision Making Center funded by the US National Science Foundation (SES-0345798).

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K.L.R. designed and carried out the experiments and carried out the data analysis, M.G.M. and M.R.A. supervised the design and interpretation. The manuscript was written by K.L.R. and edited by M.G.M. and M.R.A.

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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., Morgan, M. & Allen, M. Regional climate response to solar-radiation management. Nature Geosci 3, 537–541 (2010).

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