Abstract

Enhancement of the Earth’s albedo through the injection of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere has been proposed as an approach to offset some of the adverse effects of climate change. Here we analyse an ensemble of simulations of the twenty-first century climate designed to explore a strategic geoengineering approach. Specifically, stratospheric sulfur injections are imposed at 15° and 30° in both hemispheres with the aim to minimize the changes in surface temperature, both in the global mean and in its gradients between hemispheres and from equator to pole. The approach accomplishes these goals and reduces previously noted adverse impacts of solar radiation management, such as excessive cooling in the tropics and weakening rainfall over land. Nonetheless, hydrological responses over the North Atlantic Ocean lead to an acceleration of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and to continued warming of the deep and polar oceans, particularly in the vicinity of southern Greenland. These changes could cause continued, albeit slower, cryospheric melt and global sea level rise. Our simulations demonstrate the complexity of the coupled climate response to geoengineering and highlight the need for significant advances in our ability to simulate the coupled climate system and the continued refinement of geoengineering strategies as a prerequisite to their successful implementation.

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Data availability

The data sets analysed during this study are available on the Earth System Grid (https://www.earthsystemgrid.org and http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/projects/community-projects/GLENS/).

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge support from NASA award no. 80NSSC17K0565 and NSF award no. 1243107. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated for the US Department of Energy by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RL01830. This research was developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The views, opinions and/or findings expressed are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official views or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

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Affiliations

  1. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA

    • John T. Fasullo
    • , Simone Tilmes
    • , Jadwiga H. Richter
    • , Michael J. Mills
    •  & Isla R. Simpson
  2. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA

    • Ben Kravitz
  3. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

    • Douglas G. MacMartin

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Contributions

J.T.F. performed the core analysis, interpretation of results and writing. S.T. and J.H.R. performed the experiments and contributed to manuscript revisions. B.K. envisioned and designed the experimental set-up. D.G.M. contributed to the experimental set-up and manuscript revisions. M.J.M. and I.R.S. contributed to group discussions and manuscript revisions.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to John T. Fasullo.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0249-7