(p. D3) A quarter-century ago, Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, blew its top in a big way: It spewed a cubic mile of rock and ash and 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. The gas spread around the world and combined with water vapor to make aerosols, tiny droplets that reflected some sunlight away from the Earth. As a result, average global temperatures dropped by about one degree Fahrenheit for several years.
Powerful volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo’s in 1991 are one of the biggest natural influences on climate. So NASA researchers and other scientists are planning a rapid-response program to study the next big one.
But the climate impact of a Pinatubo-size eruption is also a natural analog of an idea that has existed on the fringes of science for years: geoengineering, or intervening in the atmosphere to deliberately cool the planet.
One geoengineering approach would use high-flying jets to spray similar chemicals in the stratosphere. So by studying the next big volcanic eruption, scientists would also gain insights into how such a scheme, known as solar radiation management, or S.R.M., might work.
“This is important if we’re ever going to do geoengineering,” said Alan Robock, a Rutgers University researcher who models the effects of eruptions and who has been involved in discussions about the rapid-response project.
. . .
Geoengineering has long had an outlaw image among much of the scientific community, viewed as risky last-resort measures to solve climate problems that would be better dealt with by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even discussing geoengineering concepts has long been considered taboo among many scientists.
. . .
But in the past few years, some scientists and policymakers have begun to argue for limited direct research into geoengineering concepts to better understand their potential as well as risks, and be better prepared should global warming reach a point where some kind of emergency action were deemed necessary.
A few scientists have proposed small-scale outdoor experiments to study aspects of solar radiation management, and last month the American Geophysical Union, one of the nation’s largest scientific societies, endorsed the idea of some research into what it called “climate intervention.”
For the full story, see:
Henry Fountain. “A Volcanic Idea for Cooling the Earth.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): D3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 1, 2018, and has the title “The Next Big Volcano Could Briefly Cool Earth. NASA Wants to Be Ready.”)