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Climate Engineering Can Cool The Earth But With Potentially Dangerous Effects

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The year 2017 was the costliest year for climate disasters in the United States. To mitigate the risks posed by natural calamities, experts proposed geoengineering as a possible solution to climate change, but a new study warns that this solution is a dangerous one.

A recent study published on Nature Ecology & Evolution reveals that geoengineering poses unprecedented threats to the environment and the planet's biodiversity.

The worsening problem of climate change led to more research and studies on scientific interventions and climate manipulation technology to reduce global warming and, subsequently, evade its catastrophic effects. However, these proposed solutions come with risks.

In the first published study on the possible effects of climate engineering, researchers found out that spraying chemicals and aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight away from the planet would have a detrimental effect on plants and animals when stopped.

Geoengineering The Climate

Geoengineering, also called climate engineering, is defined as the intentional large-scale manipulation of the climate system. The main goal of geoengineering is to reduce the impact of climate change. Planetary environments, including climate, are deliberately manipulated and controlled to counteract the anthropogenic effects of climate change.

One geoengineering solution is to increase the Earth's reflective power by spraying sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Spraying sulfuric acid in the lower stratosphere is believed to be a cheap and easy way to stop the rising atmospheric temperature. The sulfur combines with water vapor in the atmosphere to form sulfate aerosols. The aerosols are swept upward and dispersed across the stratosphere right above the Earth's surface.

These aerosols block about one percent of the sunlight on the Earth's surface and reflect it away from the planet. According to David Keith, a Harvard University physicist, this geoengineering process will delay the global warming effect caused by greenhouse gases.

No Way To Start Or Stop It

Despite the promising prospects, it looks like geoengineering will have detrimental consequences. The abrupt termination of geoengineering would pose serious threats to biodiversity due to the sudden climate change, according to Professor Alan Robock of the Rutgers University New-Brunswick Department of Environmental Sciences, one of the study authors.

In the research, the scientists studied a global scenario that uses geoengineering for the moderate cooling of the Earth's atmosphere.

In the computer model, geoengineers pumped 5 million tons of sulfur dioxide each year into Equator's upper atmosphere. The entire geoengineering process simulation lasted from 2020 to 2070. For the entire duration of the simulation, 250 million tons of sulfur dioxide were scattered in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

In this geoengineering scenario, the global temperature will decrease by one degree Celsius. However, halting geoengineering efforts will have catastrophic effects on biodiversity and the natural environment.

 "If geoengineering ever stopped abruptly, it would be devastating, so you would have to be sure that it could be stopped gradually, and its easy to think of scenarios that would prevent that. Imagine large droughts or floods around the world that could be blamed on geoengineering, and demands that it stops. Can we ever risk that?," according to Robock.

The extreme and rapid changes in the climate resulting from geoengineering will make it harder for species to adapt and survive.

It Will Cause More Damage

Implementing geoengineering efforts and rapid termination of the climate intervention would be detrimental to plants and animals.

The study suggests that geoengineering will decrease the temperature of biodiversity hotspots, but land and ocean temperatures would increase rapidly after terminating geoengineering efforts. As Robock noted, there will be a rapid warming, "10 times faster than if geoengineering had not been deployed."

"In many cases, you'd have to go one direction to find the same temperature but a different direction to find the same precipitation," Robock said. "Plants, of course, can't move reasonably at all. Some animals can move and some can't."

With this study, experts warn about the devastating effects associated with implementing and terminating geoengineering, climate engineering, and solar engineering efforts.

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