The Rain in Spain: The Many Uncertainties of Tinkering With the Climate

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Climate geoengineering could change patterns of drought and rainfall. Image Credit: mzacha

Imagine a warm earth, with constantly shifting rainfall patterns.

Imagine teams of scientists working to place mirrors in space, and injecting sulphur into the atmosphere.

This scenario sounds very sci-fi, but these geoengineering techniques are the subjects of research into ways that we may intervene in the planet’s climate.

In desperate times, how far would humans go to reinvent the world’s climate?

What would happen if they did?  And most importantly, do we even know what we’re doing?

What is Climate Geoengineering?

The science of climate geoengineering is an emerging science that tries to determine how we could manage the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or the heat that it causes. In the climate geoengineering world, there are two main directions for managing climate change: removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or managing the solar radiation that comes to the planet.

The first direction would address climate change by reducing the source of the heat, while the second direction would reduce warming while carbon dioxide levels would stay the same.

Modeling future climate scenarios helps us understand where uncertainties lie. Image Credit: Michelina

Modeling Future Climate Scenarios

Hauke Schmidt from the Max Plank Institute for Meteorology is a climate modeler who’s testing to see how different climate geoengineering scenarios could play out in the future. In a recent paper on solar irradiance reduction, Schmidt and his colleagues tried to determine what might happen if scientists were to reduce the inflow of solar energy onto the earth.

The scenario that the Institute studied was the very sci-fi sounding prospect of placing mirrors in space to bounce solar radiation back before it hits the earth. In their climate-modeling scenario, they covered 4% of the surface area around the earth with mirrors.

Schmidt is quick to state that solar radiation management is not necessarily the best option. However, he told Decoded Science that it is prudent to understand where climate models agree, and to deepen our understanding of the potential consequences of our actions. Making models is a way to better understand where some certainty might lie. Where do the models agree and disagree? The place where they agree is most likely to be close to the truth.

This scenario might sound scary, and it is true that climate geoengineering tinkers with the climate in a big way. Tinkering with the climate is scary. However, we are changing it on a large scale already.  Schmidt’s future scenario imagines a climate with four times the amount of carbon dioxide of pre-industrial times. This might sound like a lot, but if society continues to produce carbon dioxide at the rate that we do now, it’s quite possible that we’ll hit this mark.

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