The National Research Council (NRC) has compiled a new report which concluded the United States should continue funding climate research. The study also calls for funding of two potential radical methods of reducing global warming. One idea, known as albedo modification, would alter the atmosphere, altering the amount of light reflected from the surface of our planet. The second possibility is scrubbing carbon dioxide directly from the air.
Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the journal Science, and former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, led the 16-member panel that generated the new report.
"The two main options for responding to the risks of climate change involve mitigation - reducing and eventually eliminating human-caused emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases - and adaptation. It may be prudent to examine additional options, namely [carbon dioxide removal] and albedo modification," the report states.
Each of the two radical methods of altering the environment pose significant risks, and should not be employed at this time, authors of the study concluded. However, the panel did conclude that research into these technologies should be started immediately, funded by the federal government.
"Natural processes currently remove over half of the emission from the atmosphere each year. Once these emissions cease, it will take thousands of years before these processes eventually return Earth to something like pre-industrial levels of atmospheric CO2," researchers wrote in the study.
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) poses fewer environmental risks than albedo modification, although costs would be significant. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has the advantage of reducing the underlying problem - the accumulation of greenhouse gases. The panel concluded that CDR is "increasingly likely" to be needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.
A form of CDR not considered in this study is detailed in a recent report from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who concluded that biomass could be burned for energy. Waste gases would then be sequestered underground, resulting in a negative growth in atmospheric carbon.
Albedo modification research that could be carried out in the near future includes examination of satellite data, field tests of energy absorption and reflection, and laboratory studies.
Geoengineering studies have received just a few million dollars in federal funding since 2006, when the idea first became a popular topic among climatologists. A non-profit organization headed by multibillionaire computer pioneer Bill Gates is the largest donor so far to the technologies, donating $8.5 million over the last eight years.
The idea of altering the climate using either CDR or albedo modification has proven to be controversial, possibly hindering federal funding. This new report may provide political capital to lawmakers looking to fund the research.