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Volume 560 Issue 7719, 23 August 2018

Veiled threat

The cover illustrates how the dust veil generated by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines shaded and cooled Earth. This, in part, inspired geoengineering proposals to mitigate the effects of a warming climate by injecting precursors to sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. In this week’s issue, Jonathan Proctor and his colleagues use the eruptions of Mount Pinatubo and of El Chichón in Mexico (1982) as natural experiments to study the effects of such aerosol veils on global crop yields. They find that the changes in sunlight induced by the stratospheric aerosols had a negative effect on the yields of maize, soy, rice and wheat. The researchers then model a geoengineering scenario and find that the technology’s benefits to crop production from cooling are washed out by its damages from shading. These results suggest that solar geoengineering using sulfate aerosols would fail to mitigate the danger that climate change poses to global agricultural production and food security.

Cover image: Jonathan Proctor and Solomon Hsiang

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