Potentially dangerous consequences for biodiversity of solar geoengineering implementation and termination

  • Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 2pages475482 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0431-0
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Solar geoengineering is receiving increased policy attention as a potential tool to offset climate warming. While climate responses to geoengineering have been studied in detail, the potential biodiversity consequences are largely unknown. To avoid extinction, species must either adapt or move to track shifting climates. Here, we assess the effects of the rapid implementation, continuation and sudden termination of geoengineering on climate velocities—the speeds and directions that species would need to move to track changes in climate. Compared to a moderate climate change scenario (RCP4.5), rapid geoengineering implementation reduces temperature velocities towards zero in terrestrial biodiversity hotspots. In contrast, sudden termination increases both ocean and land temperature velocities to unprecedented speeds (global medians >10 km yr−1) that are more than double the temperature velocities for recent and future climate change in global biodiversity hotspots. Furthermore, as climate velocities more than double in speed, rapid climate fragmentation occurs in biomes such as temperate grasslands and forests where temperature and precipitation velocity vectors diverge spatially by >90°. Rapid geoengineering termination would significantly increase the threats to biodiversity from climate change.

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C.H.T. was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the US National Science Foundation DBI-1052875. A.R., L.X. and B.Z. were supported by US National Science Foundation grants GEO-1240507, AGS-1430051 and AGS-1617844. We thank the climate modelling groups for making their results available and GeoMIP for organizing the experiments; the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, for temperature and precipitation data; the UK Hadley Centre for sea surface temperature data; and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and BirdLife International for species-range maps. Much of the processing chain was implemented at Yale Center for Research Computing (YCRC), and we thank the YCRC staff. We thank T. Carleton, I. Carroll, K. Conca, C. Merrow, L. Palmer, I. Quintero and N. Upham for comments. The cross-disciplinary forums provided by an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting and SESYNC led to the meeting of C.T., J.G. and A.R., initiating this work.

Author information


  1. National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland, Annapolis, MD, USA

    • Christopher H. Trisos
  2. School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

    • Giuseppe Amatulli
  3. Center for Research Computing, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

    • Giuseppe Amatulli
  4. Center for Science and Social Science Information, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

    • Giuseppe Amatulli
  5. Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA

    • Jessica Gurevitch
  6. Department of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA

    • Alan Robock
    • , Lili Xia
    •  & Brian Zambri


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C.H.T., A.R. and J.G. conceived the study. C.H.T., A.R., J.G., G.A., L.X. and B.Z. designed the study. C.H.T., G.A., L.X. and B.Z. performed the analysis and drew the figures. G.A. wrote the scripting procedure for the geodata processing chain. C.H.T., A.R. and J.G. wrote the paper, with substantial contributions from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher H. Trisos.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary tables 1–3; supplementary figures 1–9.