Climate Science

Sebastian Eastham, Sarah Doherty, David Keith, Jadwiga H. Richter, and Lili Xia. 2021. “Improving Models for Solar Climate Intervention Research.” Eos. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Solar climate intervention, also known as solar radiation modification, is an approach intended to mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing the amount of solar energy that the Earth system traps. It sits alongside three other plausible responses to climate risk: emission cuts and decarbonization, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) removal, and adaptation to a changing climate.

Unlike the other approaches, solar climate intervention (SCI), which comprises various techniques, aims to modify Earth’s radiation budget—the amounts and balance of solar energy that Earth absorbs and reflects—directly. Implementing SCI means either decreasing inbound solar (shortwave) radiation by reflecting it back into space before it is absorbed or increasing the amount of outbound terrestrial (longwave) radiation.

Potential methods of SCI include stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), marine cloud brighteningcirrus cloud thinningsurface albedo modification, and space-based methods involving, for example, mirrors (Figure 1). At present, the potential efficacy and risks of implementing these approaches to reduce climate change are highly uncertain and likely depend on how they are implemented.

The Geoengineering Modeling Research Consortium (GMRC) was founded to coordinate SCI modeling research and to identify and resolve relevant issues with physical models, especially where existing climate research is unlikely to do so. Here we synthesize 2 years of GMRC meetings and research, and we offer specific recommendations for future model development.

Jacob T. Seeley, Nicholas J. Lutsko, and David W. Keith. 12/6/2020. “Designing a radiative antidote to CO2.” Geophysical Research Letters. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) reduces the CO2‐induced change to the mean global hydrological cycle disproportionately more than it reduces the CO2‐induced increase in mean surface temperature. Thus if SRM were used to offset all CO2‐induced mean warming, global‐mean precipitation would be less than in an unperturbed climate. Here we show that the mismatch between the mean hydrological effects of CO2 and SRM may partly be alleviated by spectrally tuning the SRM intervention (reducing insolation at some wavelengths more than others). By concentrating solar dimming at near‐infrared wavelengths, where H2O has strong absorption bands, the direct effect of CO2 on the tropospheric energy budget can be offset, which minimizes perturbations to the mean hydrological cycle. Idealized cloud‐resolving simulations of radiative‐convective equilibrium confirm that spectrally‐tuned SRM can simultaneously maintain mean surface temperature and precipitation at their unperturbed values even as large quantities of CO2 are added to the atmosphere.
David Keith and Peter Irvine. 3/20/2020. “Halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering moderates policy-relevant climate hazards.” Environmental Research Letters, 15, 4. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Stratospheric aerosol geoengineering is a proposal to artificially thicken the layer of reflective aerosols in the stratosphere and it is hoped that this may offer a means of reducing average climate changes. However, previous work has shown that it could not perfectly offset the effects of climate change and there is a concern that it may worsen climate impacts in some regions. One approach to evaluating this concern is to test whether the absolute magnitude of climate change at each location is significantly increased (exacerbated) or decreased (moderated)relative to the period just preceding deployment. In prior work it was found that halving warming with an idealized solar constant reduction would substantially reduce climate change overall, exacerbating change in a small fraction of places. Here, we test if this result holds for a more realistic representation of stratospheric aerosol geoengineering using the data from the geoengineering large ensemble (GLENS). Using a linearized scaling of GLENS we find that halving warming with stratospheric aerosols moderates important climate hazards in almost all regions. Only 1.3% of land area sees exacerbation of change in water availability, and regions that are exacerbated see wetting not drying contradicting the common assumption that solar geoengineering leads to drying in general. These results suggest that halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering could potentially reduce key climate hazards substantially while avoiding some problems associated with fully offsetting warming.
Nicholas J. Lutsko, Jacob T Seeley, and David W. Keith. 5/2020. “Estimating Impacts and Trade‐offs in Solar Geoengineering Scenarios With a Moist Energy Balance Model.” Geophysical Research Letters, 47, 9.Abstract
There are large uncertainties in the potential impacts of solar radiation modification (SRM) and in how these impacts depend on the way SRM is deployed. One open question concerns trade‐offs between latitudinal profiles of insolation reduction and climate response. Here, a moist energy balance model is used to evaluate several SRM proposals, providing fundamental insight into how the insolation reduction profile affects the climate response. The optimal SRM profile is found to depend on the intensity of the intervention, as the most effective profile for moderate SRM focuses the reduction at high latitudes, whereas the most effective profile for strong SRM is tropically amplified. The effectiveness of SRM is also shown to depend on when it is applied, an important factor to consider when designing SRM proposals. Using an energy balance model allows us to provide physical explanations for these results while also suggesting future avenues of research with comprehensive climate models.
Matthias Honegger, Steffen Munch, Annette Hirsch, Christoph Beuttler, Thomas Peter, Wil Burns, Oliver Genden, Timo Goeschl, Daniel Gregorowius, David Keith, Markus Lederer, Axel Michaelowa, Janos Pasztor, Stefan Schafer, Sonia Seneviratne, Andrea Stenke, Anthony Patt, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer. 5/2017. Climate change, negative emissions and solar radiation management: It is time for an open societal conversation. Risk-Dialogue Foundation St.Gallen for the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment.
Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman. 7/2018. “Potentially large equilibrium climate sensitivity tail uncertainty.” Economics Letters, 168, Pp. 144-6. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), the link between concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and eventual global average temperatures, has been persistently and perhaps deeply uncertain. Its ‘likely’ range has been approximately between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Centigrade for almost 40 years (Wagner and Weitzman, 2015). Moreover, Roe and Baker (2007), Weitzman (2009), and others have argued that its right-hand tail may be long, ‘fat’ even. Enter Cox et al. (2018), who use an ’emergent constraint’ approach to characterize the probability distribution of ECS as having a central or best estimate of 2.8℃ with a 66% confidence interval of 2.2-3.4℃. This implies, by their calculations, that the probability of ECS exceeding 4.5℃ is less than 1%. They characterize such kind of result as “renewing hope that we may yet be able to avoid global warming exceeding 2[℃]”. We share the desire for less uncertainty around ECS (Weitzman, 2011; Wagner and Weitzman, 2015). However, we are afraid that the upper-tail emergent constraint on ECS is largely a function of the assumed normal error terms in the regression analysis. We do not attempt to evaluate Cox et al. (2018)’s physical modeling (aside from the normality assumption), leaving that task to physical scientists. We take Cox et al. (2018)’s 66% confidence interval as given and explore the implications of applying alternative probability distributions. We find, for example, that moving from a normal to a log-normal distribution, while giving identical probabilities for being in the 2.2-3.4℃ range, increases the probability of exceeding 4.5℃ by over five times. Using instead a fat-tailed Pareto distribution, an admittedly extreme case, increases the probability by over forty times.
Sebastian D. Eastham, David W. Keith, and Steven R. H. Barrett. 3/9/2018. “Mortality tradeoff between air quality and skin cancer from changes in stratospheric ozone.” Environmental Research Letters, 13, 3. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Skin cancer mortality resulting from stratospheric ozone depletion has been widely studied. Similarly, there is a deep body of literature on surface ozone and its health impacts, with modeling and observational studies demonstrating that surface ozone concentrations can be increased when stratospheric air mixes to the Earth's surface. We offer the first quantitative estimate of the trade-off between these two effects, comparing surface air quality benefits and UV-related harms from stratospheric ozone depletion. Applying an idealized ozone loss term in the stratosphere of a chemistry-transport model for modern-day conditions, we find that each Dobson unit of stratospheric ozone depletion results in a net decrease in the global annual mortality rate of ~40 premature deaths per billion population (d/bn/DU). The impacts are spatially heterogeneous in sign and magnitude, composed of a reduction in premature mortality rate due to ozone exposure of ~80 d/bn/DU concentrated in Southeast Asia, and an increase in skin cancer mortality rate of ~40 d/bn/DU, mostly in Western Europe. This is the first study to quantify air quality benefits of stratospheric ozone depletion, and the first to find that marginal decreases in stratospheric ozone around modern-day values could result in a net reduction in global mortality due to competing health impact pathways. This result, which is subject to significant methodological uncertainty, highlights the need to understand the health and environmental trade-offs involved in policy decisions regarding anthropogenic influences on ozone chemistry over the 21st century.
Ilissa B. Ocko, Steven P. Hamburg, Daniel J. Jacob, David W. Keith, Nathaniel O. Keohane, Michael Oppenheimer, Joseph D. Roy-Mayhew, Daniel P. Schrag, and Stephen W. Pacala. 5/5/2017. “Unmask temporal trade-offs in climate policy debates.” Science, 356, 6337, Pp. 492-493. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global warming potentials (GWPs) have become an essential element of climate policy and are built into legal structures that regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This is in spite of a well-known shortcoming: GWP hides trade-offs between short- and long-term policy objectives inside a single time scale of 100 or 20 years (1). The most common form, GWP100, focuses on the climate impact of a pulse emission over 100 years, diluting near-term effects and misleadingly implying that short-lived climate pollutants exert forcings in the long-term, long after they are removed from the atmosphere (2). Meanwhile, GWP20 ignores climate effects after 20 years. We propose that these time scales be ubiquitously reported as an inseparable pair, much like systolic-diastolic blood pressure and city-highway vehicle fuel economy, to make the climate effect of using one or the other time scale explicit. Policy-makers often treat a GWP as a value-neutral measure, but the time-scale choice is central to achieving specific objectives (2–4).

Robert E. Kopp, Rachael Shwom, Gernot Wagner, and Jiacan Yuan. 7/2016. “Tipping elements and climate-economic shocks: Pathways toward integrated assessment.” Earth's Future. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The literature on the costs of climate change often draws a link between climatic ‘tipping points’ and large economic shocks, frequently called ‘catastrophes’. The phrase ‘tipping points’ in this context can be misleading. In popular and social scientific discourse, ‘tipping points’ involve abrupt state changes. For some climatic ‘tipping points,’ the commitment to a state change may occur abruptly, but the change itself may be rate-limited and take centuries or longer to realize. Additionally, the connection between climatic ‘tipping points’ and economic losses is tenuous, though emerging empirical and process-model-based tools provide pathways for investigating it. We propose terminology to clarify the distinction between ‘tipping points’ in the popular sense, the critical thresholds exhibited by climatic and social ‘tipping elements,’ and ‘economic shocks’. The last may be associated with tipping elements, gradual climate change, or non-climatic triggers. We illustrate our proposed distinctions by surveying the literature on climatic tipping elements, climatically sensitive social tipping elements, and climate-economic shocks, and we propose a research agenda to advance the integrated assessment of all three.