, Volume 92, Issue 3-4, pp 243-259,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Geoengineering climate by stratospheric sulfur injections: Earth system vulnerability to technological failure

Abstract

We use a coupled climate–carbon cycle model of intermediate complexity to investigate scenarios of stratospheric sulfur injections as a measure to compensate for CO2-induced global warming. The baseline scenario includes the burning of 5,000 GtC of fossil fuels. A full compensation of CO2-induced warming requires a load of about 13 MtS in the stratosphere at the peak of atmospheric CO2 concentration. Keeping global warming below 2°C reduces this load to 9 MtS. Compensation of CO2 forcing by stratospheric aerosols leads to a global reduction in precipitation, warmer winters in the high northern latitudes and cooler summers over northern hemisphere landmasses. The average surface ocean pH decreases by 0.7, reducing the calcifying ability of marine organisms. Because of the millennial persistence of the fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere, high levels of stratospheric aerosol loading would have to continue for thousands of years until CO2 was removed from the atmosphere. A termination of stratospheric aerosol loading results in abrupt global warming of up to 5°C within several decades, a vulnerability of the Earth system to technological failure.