Climatic effects of surface albedo geoengineering

Pete J Irvine*, Andy J Ridgwell, Dan J Lunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Various surface albedo modification geoengineering schemes such as those involving desert, urban, or agricultural areas have been proposed as potential strategies for helping counteract the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. However, such schemes tend to be inherently limited in their potential and would create a much more heterogeneous radiative forcing than propositions for space-based "reflectors" and enhanced stratospheric aerosol concentrations. Here we present results of a series of atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (GCM) simulations to compare three surface albedo geoengineering proposals: urban, cropland, and desert albedo enhancement. We find that the cooling effect of surface albedo modification is strongly seasonal and mostly confined to the areas of application. For urban and cropland geoengineering, the global effects are minor but, because of being colocated with areas of human activity, they may provide some regional benefits. Global desert geoengineering, which is associated with significant global-scale changes in circulation and the hydrological cycle, causes a smaller reduction in global precipitation per degree of cooling than sunshade geoengineering, 1.1% K -1 and 2.0% K-1 respectively, but a far greater reduction in the precipitation over land, 3.9% K-1 compared with 1.0% K -1. Desert geoengineering also causes large regional-scale changes in precipitation with a large reduction in the intensity of the Indian and African monsoons in particular. None of the schemes studied reverse the climate changes associated with a doubling of CO2, with desert geoengineering profoundly altering the climate and with urban and cropland geoengineering providing only some regional amelioration at most. Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

Translated title of the contributionClimatic effects of surface albedo geoengineering
Original languageEnglish
Article numberD24112
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

Other identifier: D24112


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