Reflecting sunlight can cool Earth’s ecosystem: Study 

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A team of researchers looked into the impact of solar climate interventions on the environment. The team emphasises the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving habitats and ecological functions. 

Reflecting sunlight can cool Earth’s ecosystem says research. More research is required to consider the ecological impacts of solar radiation modulation (SRM) technologies that reflect tiny quantities of sunlight into the atmosphere, as per a group of scientists made up of climate scientists and ecologists from leading research universities around the world.

Researchers from the Climate Intervention Biology Working Group, which included Jessica Hellmann from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of researchers looked into the impact of solar climate interventions on the environment. The team emphasises the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving habitats and ecological functions. 

Reflecting sunlight can cool Earth’s ecosystem

The team concentrated on a possible SRM technique known as stratospheric aerosol interference (SAI), which involves creating a sulphate aerosol layer in the stratosphere to suppress incoming sunlight and radiation. In principle, the scale and position of this cloud may be monitored.

SAI is similar to putting tiny reflective particles in the atmosphere to reflect a part of solar radiation to space, preventing any of it from reaching and warming Earth. The team highlights the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving habitats and ecological functions.

“We are just starting to consider the risks and benefits of geo-engineering, and we must include ecosystems in cost-benefit studies,” stated Hellmann, director at the U of M Institute on the Environment. 

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He added, “We should only pursue geo-engineering if its benefits strongly outweigh its downsides. Because our efforts to stem climate change are modest and slow, the case for considering geo-engineering is growing, and this paper represents the ecologists chiming into the geo-engineering conversation.”

SAI is not a basic thermostat that turns down the heat a few degrees because of the complexities of swirling interactions between habitats and the environment under SAI, as well as the timing, number, volume, and termination of SAI scenarios. 

Changes in rainfall and surface’s UV rays are two other possible SAI impacts. Although SAI could be able to cool an overheated Earth, it may not be able to mitigate any of the consequences of increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, such as halting ocean acidification.

“When we approach complex questions like these, there is a broad scale, theoretical understanding of the inherent patterns of biodiversity across the surface of Earth, but this understanding is often informed by finer-scale experiments that test the biological and physical mechanisms underlying those patterns,” said Phoebe Zarnetske, study co-lead, and an associate professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Integrative Biology and the Ecology, Evolution, and Behaviour program.

“I hope the paper can convince ecologists that research about nature’s responses to solar geo-engineering is not just important, but also interesting — touching on core ecological questions about topics as varied as photosynthesis and animal migration,” said U of M alum Shan Kothari, who contributed to the study during his time at the College of Biological Sciences before going to the University of Montreal.

Other scientists should use the study’s results to understand the special circumstances arising from solar geo-engineering scenarios, which could help or hinder ecosystems’ capacity to store carbon, according to Kothari. He went on to say that such experiments could help the international community think about solar geo-engineering with a better understanding of the costs and benefits.

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