The poles are warming several times faster than the global average, causing record-breaking heat waves reported earlier this year in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Ice melt and glacier collapse at high latitudes would accelerate sea level rise around the planet. Fortunately, refreezing the poles by reducing incoming sunlight would be remarkably feasible and cheap, according to new research published today in Environmental Research Communications.
Scientists have devised a potential future program where high-altitude planes spray the microscope Aerosol particles In the atmosphere at latitudes 60 degrees north and south – approximately Anchorage and the southern tip of Patagonia. If injected at 43,000 feet (above cruising altitudes), these aerosols will slowly drift toward the pole, shading the surface slightly below. Lead author Wake Smith notes: “There is a widespread and reasonable fear about the deployment of aerosols to cool the planet, but if the risk/benefit equation were to pay off anywhere, it would be at the poles.”
Particle injections are performed seasonally in the long days of local spring and early summer. The same fleet of aircraft can serve both hemispheres, moving to the opposite pole as the seasons change.
Pre-existing military refueling tankers such as the KC-135 and A330 MMRT do not have sufficient payload at the required altitudes, while newly designed high-altitude tankers will prove to be more efficient. A fleet of 125 tanks could lift enough payload to cool the polar regions 60°N S by 2°C annually, which would bring them back close to their pre-industrial average temperatures. Costs are estimated at $11 billion annually — less than a third of the cost of cooling the entire planet by the same 2°C and a fraction of the cost of reaching net zero emissions.
“While this may change in a rapidly warming world, stratospheric aerosol injections only treat symptoms of climate change but not the underlying disease. It’s aspirin, not penicillin. It’s not a replacement for decarbonization,” Smith says.
Cooling at the poles will provide direct protection for only a small part of the planet, although middle latitudes should also see some drop in temperature. With less than 1% of the world’s population living in the target spread areas, polar spread entails much lower direct risks to most of humanity than the global programme. “However, any deliberate shift of the global temperature regulator would be of common interest to all of humanity and not just the boycott of the Arctic states and Patagonia,” Smith adds.
In summary, the current study is only one small and initial step towards understanding the costs, benefits, and risks of undertaking climate intervention in high latitudes. It provides additional reason to believe that such tools could be useful in maintaining the cryosphere near the poles and slowing sea-level rise globally.
Wake Smith et al., Scenario of a stratospheric injection-focused sub-pole diffusion scenario, Environmental Research Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1088 / 2515-7620 / ac8cd3
Institute of Physics
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