Could geoengineering prevent the climate crisis spinning further out of control?

7 Aug 2019

Creating volcano-like ash clouds could be a form of geoengineering. Image: © klikk/

Researchers have pondered whether our efforts to tackle the climate crisis could include geoengineering on a global scale.

As many of the recent climate reports have shown, something drastic needs to occur to prevent the ongoing climate crisis from developing into something that threatens the lives of every living thing on the planet.

Now, in a paper published to Geophysical Research Letters, an international team of researchers has run simulations to see whether replicating the effects of volcanoes in our atmosphere might aid in this effort, and how it might compare to actual volcanic eruptions.

The researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science, Zhejiang University and the Indian Institute for Science looked at the impact of a single, massive volcano-like event, which would release enormous amounts of material that would linger in the Earth’s atmosphere for a few years.

It also looked at a longer-term geoengineering approach that would require large quantities of aerosols pumped into the atmosphere to limit the sun’s radiation on Earth.

Hopefully not

The team found that regardless of how it got there, both events would result in a rapid decrease in surface temperature with the land cooling faster than the ocean. However, the volcanic eruption would create a greater temperature difference between the land and sea than the geoengineering option.

This resulted in two precipitation patterns. While both showed a decrease in precipitation over land, meaning less available water for populations, this decease was greater for the volcano scenario.

“This disrupts rainfall patterns in ways that you wouldn’t expect to happen with a sustained deployment of a geoengineering system,” said researcher Lei Duan.

Duan’s colleague, Ken Caldeira, added that the research was not attempting to prove that geoengineering could be a solution to the climate crisis, and that reducing emissions remains the only sure way to tackle the issue.

“Nobody likes the idea of intentionally tinkering with our climate system at global scale,” he said.

“Even if we hope these approaches won’t ever have to be used, it is really important that we understand them because someday they might be needed to help alleviate suffering.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic