SOURCE: Rutgers University

DATE: January 21, 2018

SNIP: Facing a climate crisis, we may someday spray sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to form a cloud that cools the Earth, but suddenly stopping the spraying would have a severe global impact on animals and plants, according to the first study on the potential biological impacts of geoengineering, or climate intervention.

The study was published online today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The paper was co-authored by Rutgers Distinguished Professor Alan Robock, research associate Lili Xia and postdoc Brian Zambri, all from the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

“Rapid warming after stopping geoengineering would be a huge threat to the natural environment and biodiversity,” Robock said. “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?”

The geoengineering idea that’s attracted the most attention is to create a sulfuric acid cloud in the upper atmosphere as large volcanic eruptions do, Robock said. The cloud, formed after airplanes spray sulfur dioxide, would reflect solar radiation and cool the planet. But 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, Robock said. He added that the airplane spraying technology may be developed within a decade or two.