Researchers at Rutgers University have conducted the first-ever study on the potential consequences of geoengineering. The experts are reporting that once the process of climate intervention is started, there will be serious biological impacts if it is ever stopped.
The geoengineering technique that has been explored the most by scientists is the idea of spraying sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. In the event of a climate crisis, this would form a cloud over the Earth to help cool the planet. However, the new study finds that this type of climate intervention could have devastating impacts.
“Rapid warming after stopping geoengineering would be a huge threat to the natural environment and biodiversity,” said study co-author Alan Robock.
“If geoengineering ever stopped abruptly, it would be devastating, so you would have to be sure that it could be stopped gradually, and it is 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 stop. Can we ever risk that?”
Even though the climate impacts of geoengineering have been analyzed in great detail, scientists know very little about the effects that climate intervention may have on biodiversity and ecosystems.
Robock pointed out that if a cloud is created from sulphur dioxide, airplanes would have to continuously fly into the upper atmosphere to maintain the cloud because it would last only about a year if spraying stopped. He said that the airplane spraying technology may be developed within a decade or two.
For their investigation, the research team developed a global scenario with moderate cooling through the use of geoengineering. They worked under the assumption that the sulfuric acid clouds would reduce the global temperature by about 1 degree Celsius.
However, if geoengineering was stopped, this would lead to warming at a rate of 10 times faster than if geoengineering had never been implemented. Plants and animals would be put at a major disadvantage.
“We really need to look in a lot more detail at the impact on specific organisms and how they might adapt if geoengineering stops suddenly,” said Robock.
The study is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.