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New consortium brings together solar geoengineering modeling experts

Group aims to leverage expertise and pool resources to advance understanding

Aug 28, 2019 - by Laura Snider

Many of the country’s top solar geoengineering researchers have banded together to form a modeling consortium aimed at identifying gaps in our current understanding, prioritizing research that can fill those gaps, and pooling resources.

Geoengineering refers to the possibility of deliberately intervening in the climate system with the goal of offsetting some of the impacts of human-caused climate change. The newly formed group is focused in particular on geoengineering strategies that would work by reflecting some of the incoming sunlight back into space. For example, scientists are exploring the possibility of injecting light-scattering aerosols high into the atmosphere, which has a cooling effect. Aerosols produced by volcanic eruptions and industrial processes already exert a similar impact on the climate. 

“We want to know whether this approach is even feasible and what the side effects might be,” said Yaga Richter, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “Currently, we don’t have enough information to weigh the risks of a warming climate against the risks of geoengineering.”

The Geoengineering Modeling Research Consortium (GMRC) was initiated by NCAR but includes leaders in this area of research from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell, Indiana University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rutgers University, and other institutions.

The consortium, which had its first meeting at NCAR in May, allows scientists from these diverse research centers, whose work has previously been somewhat disjointed, to pool their expertise and their resources. 

“The GMRC will allow us to create a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts,” said Ben Kravitz, a researcher at Indiana University. “We're getting together some of the leading experts in the field, and if we each give a little bit of our time and energy, together we have the potential to do some great science and catalyze progress in the field.”

The idea of the consortium, first floated last winter, was met with immediate enthusiasm and the consortium already has about 30 members. Any researchers working on solar geoengineering modeling are invited to join.

One of the consortium’s goals is to improve representations of key processes related to solar radiation management in model simulations of the climate. How long these aerosols stay aloft, how they move around the globe, and how they interact with clouds are all critical to understanding what the overall climate impact of geoengineering might be.

“Interest in solar geoengineering is growing fast and policymakers need better assessments of its efficacy and risks,” said Harvard researcher David Keith. “Improved assessments require improved models. GMRC will help to close research gaps and quantify uncertainties by answering critical questions posed by the stakeholders through coordination and integration of efforts across multiple institutions”

 For more information on the consortium and how to join, visit http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/projects/gmrc/.

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