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Climate engineering off US coast could increase heatwaves in Europe, study finds | Climate crisis

Climate engineering off US coast could increase heatwaves in Europe, study finds |  Climate crisis
Climate engineering off US coast could increase heatwaves in Europe, study finds |  Climate crisis


A geoengineering technique designed to reduce high temperatures in California could inadvertently intensify heat waves in Europe, according to a study that models the unintended consequences of regional tinkering in the face of climate change.

The paper shows that targeted interventions to lower the temperature in an area during a given season could bring temporary benefits to some populations, but these must be weighed against potentially negative side effects in other parts of the world and to varying degrees. variable effectiveness over time.

The study authors said the results were frightening because the world has few or no regulations in place to prevent regional applications of the marine cloud brightening technique, which involves spraying reflective aerosols (usually in the form of sea salt or sea spray) in stratocumulus clouds over the ocean to reflect more solar radiation back into space.

Experts said the lack of controls meant there was little way to stop countries, cities, businesses or even wealthy individuals from trying to change their local climate, even if it was to the detriment of people living elsewhere, which could lead to competition and conflict. interventions.

The recent sharp rise in global temperatures has prompted some research institutes and private organizations to engage in geoengineering research that was once virtually taboo.

In Australia, scientists have been testing marine cloud brightening strategies for at least four years to try to cool the Great Barrier Reef and slow its bleaching.

Earlier this year, University of Washington scientists sprayed particles of sea salt onto the flight deck of a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, docked in Alameda, San Francisco Bay. This experiment was halted by the local government to allow it to evaluate whether the spray contained chemicals that could pose a health risk to people or animals in the Bay Area.

The new paper suggests that the consequences could be much more serious and more difficult to predict. Published Friday in Nature Climate Change, the authors say they are the first to demonstrate that the effects of cloud brightening can diminish or reverse as climate conditions change due to the already dramatic human impacts of burning clouds. fossil fuels and forests.

Using Earth system computer models of climate in 2010 and 2050, they simulated the impacts of two cloud-brightening operations conducted in different regions of the northeast Pacific Ocean, one in subtropics near California and one in mid-latitudes near Alaska. . Both were designed to reduce the risk of extreme heat in the target region, the West Coast of the United States.

Counterintuitively, the most remote operation had the greatest impact because it exploited teleconnections, the links in the climate system between geographically distant regions of the world.

The 2010 simulation suggested that the operation near Alaska would reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous heat in the target region by 55%, equivalent to 22 million person days per summer, while the subtropical test closer would result in more modest but still significant gains of 16%.

However, in simulations of the more disrupted 2050 climate, the same two operations produced very different results because there were fewer clouds, higher base temperatures, and a slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation ( Amoc). Under these mid-century conditions, the Alaska operation would have a significantly reduced effect on reducing heat stress in the western United States, while the subtropical operation would push temperatures higher, at opposite of the desired result.

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The consequences outside the target regions were also significantly different between 2010 and 2050. At an earlier date, simulations suggested that Europe would also be cooled by brightening marine clouds in the North Pacific. However, by 2050, local cooling operation would increase heat stress worldwide, especially in Europe, due to the slowdown of Amoc.

Our study is very specific, said Jessica Wan, who is part of the research team led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. This shows that marine cloud brightening can be very effective for the US West Coast if done now, but could be ineffective there in the future and cause heat waves. in Europe.

She said the findings should worry policymakers and prompt them to establish governance structures and transparency guidelines, not only globally but also regionally.

There is currently no governance regarding solar geoengineering. That's scary. Science and policy must be developed together, she said. We don't want to find ourselves in a situation where one region is forced to geoengineer to combat what another part of the world has done to respond to droughts and heatwaves.




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