Mitigating Antarctic Ice Melting with Aerosol Injection: A Research Perspective

by Tatsuya Nakamura
5 comments
Stratospheric Aerosol Injection

Researchers at Indiana University have proposed a potential solution to the rapid melting of Antarctic ice: dispersing particles in the atmosphere that reflect sunlight. This technique, known as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), could help in controlling the threat of rising sea levels caused by climate change, as reported by SciTechPost.com.

Indiana University’s Study on Climate Engineering and Antarctic Ice Preservation

A recent study by Indiana University researchers suggests that the dispersion of sunlight-reflecting particles in the atmosphere might be effective in decelerating the fast-paced melting of the West Antarctic ice. This could significantly lower the risk of a catastrophic rise in sea levels. Published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, this study is among the pioneering investigations into how climate engineering could influence Antarctica.

Paul Goddard, an assistant research scientist at the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the study’s lead author, emphasizes the importance of this research. He states, “Despite efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which we are currently failing to achieve, significant sea-level rise is inevitable. Investigating methods like reflecting sunlight back into space can provide us additional time to combat climate change and could prevent or delay critical tipping points, such as the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

The study compared various scenarios of stratospheric aerosol injection and a moderate emissions scenario without SAI against historical ice accumulation data from 1990-2009. The researchers presented a time frame of 2050-2069 for these comparisons, using different abbreviations to denote each scenario.

Contributors to the Study

In addition to Goddard, the study was co-authored by other experts including Ben Kravitz, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at IU; Douglas MacMartin and Daniele Visioni from Cornell University; Ewa Bednarz of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Walker Lee from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Understanding Stratospheric Aerosol Injection

The study delved into stratospheric aerosol injection, a climate engineering technique involving the release of sulfur droplets into the stratosphere. This is carried out by aircraft and is intended to help maintain global temperatures. This method mimics the natural cooling effect that follows large volcanic eruptions, which release particles into the upper atmosphere. A White House report recently discussed this approach, along with marine cloud brightening, as a potential strategy for cooling the Earth.

This research comes at a crucial time, as ten of the hottest years on record have occurred in the past 14 years, including 2023, which is poised to become the hottest year ever recorded. These temperature increases have been accompanied by severe heat waves, wildfires, flash floods, and other climate-related phenomena worldwide.

Using Computer Simulations to Evaluate Scenarios

The IU research team, along with collaborators, utilized high-performance computers and global climate models to simulate various stratospheric aerosol injection scenarios. They aimed to identify the most effective cooling strategy to slow down Antarctic ice loss. Part of the data analysis for this study was conducted on IU University Information Technology Services’ large-memory computer cluster, Carbonate.

Goddard explains that the location of aerosol release significantly influences its impact on climate. Their findings suggest that releasing aerosols at multiple latitudes, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, is the most effective strategy to preserve Antarctic land ice by keeping warm ocean waters away from ice shelves.

Exploring Different Scenarios and Their Outcomes

The team simulated 11 different stratospheric aerosol injection scenarios, including three spanning multiple latitudes with temperature targets of 1.5, 1, and 0.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. These simulations, running from 2035 to 2070, also included a moderate emissions scenario without SAI for comparison.

While the multi-latitude SAI scenarios showed potential benefits in reducing Antarctic ice loss, further research is required to quantify the changes in melt rates. Interestingly, some single-latitude injection scenarios actually hastened ice loss due to a shift in prevailing winds that brought warm ocean waters closer to the ice shelves.

Goddard stresses the importance of the methodology in climate engineering, noting the risks associated with stratospheric aerosol injection, such as alterations in regional precipitation patterns and the risk of a “termination shock” – a rapid return to pre-SAI global temperatures if the treatment is interrupted.

Expanding Knowledge on Geoengineering

This study contributes to the growing understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of deliberate planetary cooling. As Kravitz notes, this knowledge is becoming increasingly relevant as the effects of climate change intensify. He emphasizes the need for more research to fully understand the implications of solar radiation management, not just for Antarctica but for the entire planet.

Reference: The study, titled “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Can Reduce Risks to Antarctic Ice Loss Depending on Injection Location and Amount” by P. B. Goddard,

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Stratospheric Aerosol Injection

What is the main focus of the Indiana University study on Antarctic ice melting?

The study primarily investigates the potential of stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) in slowing down the rapid melting of Antarctic ice. This geoengineering technique involves dispersing sunlight-reflecting particles in the atmosphere, which could help mitigate the risks associated with rising sea levels due to climate change.

How does stratospheric aerosol injection work in reducing ice melting?

Stratospheric aerosol injection mimics the natural cooling effect seen after large volcanic eruptions. By releasing tiny sulfur droplets into the stratosphere, it aims to reflect sunlight back into space, thereby reducing the Earth’s temperature and slowing the melting of polar ice.

What were the key findings of the Indiana University study?

The study found that releasing stratospheric aerosols at multiple latitudes, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, is most effective in preserving Antarctic land ice. It helps keep warm ocean waters away from ice shelves, thus reducing ice loss.

What are the potential risks associated with stratospheric aerosol injection?

Potential risks include changes in regional precipitation patterns and the risk of “termination shock,” which is a rapid rebound of global temperatures to pre-intervention levels if the stratospheric aerosol injection is abruptly stopped.

Why is this study significant in the context of climate change?

This study is significant as it contributes to the understanding of geoengineering as a potential method to combat climate change. It explores a practical approach to managing solar radiation, which could be crucial in mitigating the effects of global warming, especially in vulnerable regions like Antarctica.

More about Stratospheric Aerosol Injection

  • Indiana University Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • SciTechPost.com Climate Engineering Article
  • White House Report on Climate Engineering
  • Global Climate Models Information

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5 comments

AnnaGreenThumb December 22, 2023 - 7:24 pm

Aerosols? Isn’t that bad for the ozone or something, I read somewhere that sulfur droplets can have negative effects too.

Reply
MikeTechGuru December 22, 2023 - 9:26 pm

Great article! but, how practical is it really to implement this on a large scale, it seems like a massive undertaking with lots of uncertainty

Reply
Jake Simons December 23, 2023 - 12:46 am

really interesting read but i think the risks of such geoengineering could be really high, what if it changes weather patterns too much?

Reply
SarahLuvNature December 23, 2023 - 5:41 am

I’m no scientist but isn’t playing with the atmosphere kinda dangerous? feels like we might make things worse instead of better..

Reply
EcoWarrior78 December 23, 2023 - 7:23 am

This is a crucial step forward but we still need to focus on reducing emissions, can’t just rely on tech to fix all our problems, right?

Reply

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