Cooling the Arctic could be easier than previously thought

It may seem that cooling the earth’s “refrigerators” – the Arctic and Antarctic, is at least a strange occupation, but this is not entirely true. Because the Arctic is really warming, and it is doing it faster than other regions of the Earth: if, since the 1970s, the average temperature on the planet has risen by about a degree, then the country of polar bears and reindeer has warmed by as much as three. There is little good in this, because the reduction in the area of ​​​​polar ice not only poses a danger to the local and already few fauna, but also poses a threat to people. Along with climate warming, the border of permafrost, on which many infrastructure facilities have been built, including gas pipelines and even entire cities, is retreating to the North. The destruction of the coastline is accelerating, and melting ice can seriously raise the level of the world’s oceans. In general, scientists have been thinking for years about how to do this, in order to somehow slow down this process.

One idea to combat the effects of a warming climate is to try to reduce the amount of energy coming to Earth with the sun’s rays. The more sunlight reaches the surface, the more the atmosphere will warm up, which we do not need. You can reflect the “extra” light using a layer of fine dust – an aerosol, if you somehow form it above the upper boundary of the tropospheric clouds. The fact that this method is working was proved by nature itself with the help of powerful volcanic eruptions, when a column of ash and other volcanic emissions, among which sulfuric acid aerosols play the largest role, rises tens of kilometers and is further carried by the winds. The result is the so-called volcanic winter effect. So, after the eruption of the Pinatubo volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon in 1991, the average temperature of the atmosphere fell by about half a degree. And the eruption of the Tambora volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in 1815 literally deprived the inhabitants of Europe and North America of summer – then frosts did not stop in the summer months and even snow fell repeatedly.

But since large eruptions do not occur every year, it is definitely not worth relying on them as a climate magic wand. Another thing is if we ourselves try to form a reflective layer in the atmosphere from the same aerosol particles of sulfur dioxide (they effectively reflect sunlight), then the cooling of the climate will be predictable and controllable. But there is a problem – every year you need to somehow throw about 10 million tons of sulfuric acid aerosol to a height of about 20 kilometers. And this presents some problem. In addition to the amount of aerosol itself, for modern transport aircraft, 20 kilometers is an unattainable altitude for flight. And if you spray the aerosol below, then it will very quickly leave the atmosphere along with precipitation. It turns out too expensive.

However, as the researchers write in Environmental Research Communications, the aerosol “conditioner” for the Earth can be “turned on” with less effort. To do this, it is not necessary to spray the aerosol near the equator, as previously suggested. It will be enough to bring in the same 10 million tons of sulfur dioxide per year, but closer to the poles, approximately at the 60th latitude in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. Then this mass of aerosol, under the influence of high-altitude atmospheric currents, will gradually shift to the polar regions and already there “work” to preserve the Arctic and Antarctic ice. It is also important that the closer to the poles, the lower the aerosol needs to be brought in – for the 60th latitude it is already 13 kilometers instead of 20, which is already more accessible for some types of aircraft, for example, military transport tanker aircraft.

Of course, on the one hand, in this way it will be possible to cover only part of the Earth’s surface with an “aerosol blanket”. But, on the other hand, these will be the most sensitive regions of the planet to climate warming. As for the laboriousness of a project of this kind, it does not look like some prohibitive. According to the calculations of the researchers, about 175 thousand sorties will be required annually, carried out by an air fleet of approximately 125 aircraft. This figure seems huge only at first glance – in fact, it is equivalent to only two days of operation of the world’s modern commercial air service.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by

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