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Potentially dangerous consequences for biodiversity of solar geoengineering implementation and termination


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

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.

Correspondence to Christopher H. Trisos.

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Global mean temperature and precipitation for the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison G4 scenario (solar geoengineering) and RCP4.5.
Fig. 2: Temperature and precipitation velocities for geoengineering implementation, termination, historical climate and RCP4.5.
Fig. 3: Kernel density estimates of global land and ocean climate velocities.
Fig. 4: Climate displacement and fragmentation from sudden geoengineering termination.
Fig. 5: Climate velocities for global biodiversity hotspots for historical climate, RCP4.5 and geoengineering.