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NCAR, NOAA lead efforts to understand risks and benefits of solar geoenginering

National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is one of five research programs selected to share $3 million in funding to advance critical research in the up-and-coming field of solar climate intervention. The Safe Climate Research Initiative (SCRI) was announced October 28 by SilverLining, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring a safe climate.

Solar climate intervention, or solar geoengineering, refers to artificially cooling the planet to buy time for greenhouse gas-reduction efforts to take effect. The strategy involves reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space — abruptly reducing global temperatures in a way that mimics the effects of ash clouds spewed by volcanic eruptions. The idea is controversial, but as global warming continues, some researchers and policy experts believe a better understanding of geoengineering is warranted, in case the consequences of climate change demand intervention before better solutions have become available.

The SCRI-funded work will focus on practical questions, such as how high in the atmosphere to inject sunlight-reflecting aerosols, how to shoot the right size particles into clouds to make them brighter, and the effect on the world’s food supply. At the NCAR, the grant from SilverLining will pay for the center to run and analyze hundreds of simulations of aerosol injection, testing the effects on weather extremes around the world. One goal of the research is to look for a sweet spot — the amount of artificial cooling that can reduce extreme weather events, without causing broader changes in regional precipitation patterns or similar impacts.

“Is there a way, in our model world at least, to see if we can achieve one without triggering too much of the other?” said Jean-Francois Lamarque, director of the center’s Climate and Global Dynamics laboratory, in a New York Times article.

The SCRI research adds to a growing body of work already underway by federal laboratories and others. In December, Congress gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) $4 million to research the technology. And Australia is funding experiments to determine whether and how the technology can save the Great Barrier Reef.

In August, NOAA announced that it would begin measuring aerosol levels in the stratosphere, creating a baseline to assess if those levels change later. One of the advantages of having that information, according to Troy Thornberry, a research scientist at NOAA who studies atmospheric composition and chemical processes, is that increasing aerosol levels might suggest that some other country may be intentionally injecting aerosol without announcing it.

Historic weather extremes, natural disasters, and changes such as the weakening of Antarctic glaciers pose unprecedented risks to human safety, our economy, and the stability of natural systems in the next 10-20 years. Reducing the greenhouse gases that cause climate change is essential but may act too
slowly to address near-term catastrophic risks. Scientists have found that one of the most promising ways to reduce warming within a few years (or less) is based on one of the ways that nature can cool Earth's temperature—increasing the reflection of sunlight from particles and clouds in the atmosphere, or "solar climate intervention" (SCI). However, research is required to fill enormous gaps in our understanding of the potential and risks of SCI approaches.

Recent events have demonstrated the importance of science to decision-making about major threats to public safety. Rapid advances in scientific research are required to help inform policymakers and the public about potential "emergency medicine" for climate.

"Climate change is here—we are experiencing its devastating effects in recent extreme events. The Safe Climate Research Initiative supports research on promising means of reducing warming rapidly to help keep people safe and natural systems stable," said Kelly Wanser, Executive Director of SilverLining. "We
do not have enough information to know whether climate interventions are viable or can be undertaken safely. The work of these groundbreaking research teams will help ensure we have science to inform decisions in this critical area."

In addition to the NCAR's Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory, the SCRI funding recipients include:
● The University of Washington Marine Cloud Brightening (MCB) Project
● Cornell University Climate Engineering Program
● Rutgers University Impact Studies of Climate Intervention (RISCI) Program
● The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative DECIMALS Fund (Developing Country Impacts Modelling Analysis for solar radiation management)

Additionally, Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science will join the SCRI as a collaborator.

The SCRI is an effort to catalyze private and public research, as well as financial support, to advance the knowledge and tools required to assess and develop interventions to ensure a safe climate. The awards are supported by donors whose interest is safety in climate and science-led climate response, including Lowercarbon Capital, Pritzker Innovation Fund, and philanthropists Matt Cohler and Bill Trenchard.

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