Dimming the Sun Alone Won’t Save Antarctica

Risky measures, such as dimming the Sun, may not be sufficient to save Antarctica. The only remaining solution is one we have struggled to implement for four decades: stopping the burning of fossil fuels, according to a recent study.

In the face of devastating fires, floods, and extreme weather events that have plagued the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, there’s a renewed interest in geoengineering as a potential solution. The incentive to explore potentially risky interventions will only grow stronger as climate-driven disasters intensify.

University of Bern glaciologist Johannes Sutter states, “The window of opportunity to limit the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees is closing fast, so it is possible that technical measures to influence the climate will be seriously considered in the future.”

DIMMING THE SUN

Sutter and his colleagues decided to investigate the impact of dimming the Sun on one of the impending climate tipping points, which researchers are deeply concerned about.

Observations of ice flows in West Antarctica indicate that the region is very close to a tipping point, if it hasn’t already passed it. The study aimed to determine if solar radiation management could theoretically prevent a collapse of the ice sheet.

West Antarctica is already losing alarming amounts of ice, even in the midst of winter. This includes a reduction in the sea ice that holds West Antarctic glaciers in place on land. Melting in this region would lead to significant sea-level rise and could disrupt ocean currents.

DECARBONIZATION

The research showed that while dimming the Sun by injecting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere could delay the ice collapse by 2050, it would only work in conjunction with decarbonisation efforts and in the context of moderate or low emissions pathways.

The researchers also cautioned that if solar radiation management were abruptly halted, it could lead to a sudden temperature increase and severe consequences. Additionally, it wouldn’t address the direct adverse effects of rising atmospheric CO2, such as ocean acidification.

Ultimately, the study emphasized that the most effective way to prevent the long-term collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is through rapid decarbonisation.

This research underscores the urgency of reducing carbon emissions to safeguard Antarctica and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

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