There are concerns that a continuation of these trends could have catastrophic effects, including crop failures in the heat-stressed tropics. This has led some to explore drastic ideas for combating global warming, including the idea of trying to counteract it by reflecting sunlight away from the Earth.
However, it has been suggested that reflecting sunlight away from the Earth might itself threaten the food supply of billions of people. New research led by Carnegie's Julia Pongratz examines the potential effects that geoengineering the climate could have on global food production and concludes that sunshade geoengineering would be more likely to improve rather than threaten food security. Their work is published online by Nature Climate Change January 22.
Big volcanoes cool the planet by placing lots of small particles in the stratosphere, but the particles fall out within a year and the planet heats back up. One proposal for cooling the planet is to use high-flying airplanes to constantly replenish a layer of small particles in the stratosphere that would scatter sunlight back to space. But such so-called sunshade geoengineering could have unintended consequences for climate, and especially for precipitation.
Although scientists know that climate change in recent decades has negatively impacted crop yields in many regions, the study by Pongratz and colleagues is the first to examine the potential effect of geoengineering on food security. Pongratz's team, which included Carnegie's Ken Caldeira and Long Cao, as well as Stanford University's David Lobell, used models to assess the impact of sunshade geoengineering on crop yields.
Using two different climate models, they simulated climates with carbon dioxide levels similar to what exists today. A second set of simulations doubled carbon-dioxide levels – levels that could be reached in several decades if current trends in fossil-fuel burning continue unabated. A third set of simulations posited doubled carbon dioxide, but with a layer of sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere deflecting about 2% of incoming sunlight away from the Earth. The simulated climate changes were then applied to crop models that are commonly used to project future yields.
The team found that, in the model, sunshade geoengineering leads to increased crop yields in most regions, both compared with current conditions and with the future projection of doubled carbon dioxide on its own. This is because deflecting sunlight back to space reduces temperatures, but not CO2. "In many regions, future climate change is predicted to put crops under temperature stress, reducing yields. This stress is alleviated by geoengineering," Pongratz said. "At the same time, the beneficial effects that a higher CO2 concentration has on plant productivity remain active."
Even if the geoengineering would help crop yields overall, the models predict that some areas could be harmed by the geoengineering. And there are other risks that go beyond the direct impact on crop yields. For example, deployment of such systems might lead to political or even military conflict. Furthermore, these approaches do not solve the problem of ocean acidification, which is also caused by carbon dioxide emissions.
"The real world is much more complex than our climate models, so it would be premature to act based on model results like ours," Caldeira said. "But desperate people do desperate things. Therefore, it is important to understand the consequences of actions that do not strike us as being particularly good ideas.""The climate system is not well enough understood to exclude the risks of severe unanticipated climate changes, whether due to our fossil-fuel emissions or due to intentional intervention in the climate system," Pongratz said. "Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is therefore likely a safer option than geoengineering to avert risks to global food security."
The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
Ken Caldeira | EurekAlert!
In the Southern Ocean, a carbon-dioxide mystery comes clear
04.02.2016 | The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Several metre thick ice cocktail beneath coastal Antarctic sea ice
04.02.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Automobiles increase the mobility of their users. However, their maneuverability is pushed to the limit by cramped inner city conditions. Those who need to...
Advance in biomedical imaging: The University of Würzburg's Biocenter has enhanced fluorescence microscopy to label and visualise up to nine different cell structures simultaneously.
Fluorescence microscopy allows researchers to visualise biomolecules in cells. They label the molecules using fluorescent probes, excite them with light and...
NASA's follow-on to the successful ICESat mission will employ a never-before-flown technique for determining the topography of ice sheets and the thickness of sea ice, but that won't be the only first for this mission.
Slated for launch in 2018, NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) also will carry a 3-D printed part made of polyetherketoneketone (PEKK),...
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister picture is being painted evoking the demise of the island states and their cultures. Are the effects of sea-level rise already noticeable on reef islands? Scientists from the ZMT have now answered this question for the Takuu Atoll, a group of Pacific islands, located northeast of Papua New Guinea.
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister...
The ‘Internet of Things’ is growing rapidly. Mobile phones, washing machines and the milk bottle in the fridge: the idea is that minicomputers connected to these will be able to process information, receive and send data. This requires electrical power. Transistors that are capable of switching information with a single electron use far less power than field effect transistors that are commonly used in computers. However, these innovative electronic switches do not yet work at room temperature. Scientists working on the new EU research project ‘Ions4Set’ intend to change this. The program will be launched on February 1. It is coordinated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
“Billions of tiny computers will in future communicate with each other via the Internet or locally. Yet power consumption currently remains a great obstacle”,...
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
05.02.2016 | Life Sciences
05.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy