Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program seeks to advance natural and social science research on solar geoengineering. The following academic and non-technical publications highlight some of the latest findings.

Academic Publications

Golja, C. M., L. W. Chew, J. A. Dykema, and D. W. Keith. “Aerosol Dynamics in the Near Field of the SCoPEx Stratospheric Balloon Experiment.” Journal of Geophysical Research (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) might alleviate some climate risks associated with accumulating greenhouse gases. Reduction of specific process uncertainties relevant to the distribution of aerosol in a turbulent stratospheric wake is necessary to support informed decisions about aircraft deployment of this technology. To predict aerosol size distributions we apply microphysical parameterizations of nucleation, condensation and coagulation to simulate an aerosol plume generated via injection of calcite powder or sulphate into a stratospheric wake with velocity and turbulence simulated by a three‐dimensional (3D) fluid dynamic calculation. We apply the model to predict the aerosol distribution that would be generated by a propeller wake in the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx). We find that injecting 0.1 g s‐1 calcite aerosol produces a nearly monodisperse plume and that at the same injection rate, condensable sulphate aerosol forms particles with average radii of 0.1 µm at 3 km downstream. We test the sensitivity of plume aerosol composition, size, and optical depth to the mass injection rate and injection location. Aerosol size distribution depends more strongly on injection rate than injection configuration. Comparing plume properties with specifications of a typical photometer, we find that plumes could be detected optically as the payload flies under the plume. These findings test the relevance of in situ sampling of aerosol properties by the SCoPEx outdoor experiment to enable quantitative tests of microphysics in a stratospheric plume. Our findings provide a basis for developing predictive models of SAI using aerosols formed in stratospheric aircraft wakes.
Seeley, Jacob T., Nicholas J. Lutsko, and David W. Keith. “Designing a radiative antidote to CO2.” Geophysical Research Letters (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) reduces the CO2‐induced change to the mean global hydrological cycle disproportionately more than it reduces the CO2‐induced increase in mean surface temperature. Thus if SRM were used to offset all CO2‐induced mean warming, global‐mean precipitation would be less than in an unperturbed climate. Here we show that the mismatch between the mean hydrological effects of CO2 and SRM may partly be alleviated by spectrally tuning the SRM intervention (reducing insolation at some wavelengths more than others). By concentrating solar dimming at near‐infrared wavelengths, where H2O has strong absorption bands, the direct effect of CO2 on the tropospheric energy budget can be offset, which minimizes perturbations to the mean hydrological cycle. Idealized cloud‐resolving simulations of radiative‐convective equilibrium confirm that spectrally‐tuned SRM can simultaneously maintain mean surface temperature and precipitation at their unperturbed values even as large quantities of CO2 are added to the atmosphere.
Dai, Zhen, Debra K. Weisenstein, Frank N. Keutsch, and David W. Keith. “Experimental reaction rates constrain estimates of ozone response to calcium carbonate geoengineering.” Communications Earth & Environment 1, no. 63 (2020). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Stratospheric solar geoengineering (SG) would impact ozone by heterogeneous chemistry. Evaluating these risks and methods to reduce them will require both laboratory and modeling work. Prior model-only work showed that CaCO3 particles would reduce, or even reverse ozone depletion. We reduce uncertainties in ozone response to CaCO3 via experimental determination of uptake coefficients and model evaluation. Specifically, we measure uptake coefficients of HCl and HNO3 on CaCO3 as well as HNO3 and ClONO2 on CaCl2 at stratospheric temperatures using a flow tube setup and a flask experiment that determines cumulative long-term uptake of HCl on CaCO3. We find that particle ageing causes significant decreases in uptake coefficients on CaCO3. We model ozone response incorporating the experimental uptake coefficients in the AER-2D model. With our new empirical reaction model, the global mean ozone column is reduced by up to 3%, whereas the previous work predicted up to 27% increase for the same SG scenario. This result is robust under our experimental uncertainty and many other assumptions. We outline systematic uncertainties that remain and provide three examples of experiments that might further reduce uncertainties of CaCO3 SG. Finally, we highlight the importance of the link between experiments and models in studies of SG.
Horton, Joshua B., and Barbara Koromenos. “Steering and Influence in Transnational Climate Governance: Nonstate Engagement in Solar Geoengineering Research.” Global Environmental Politics 20, no. 3 (2020): 93-111. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Theorists of transnational climate governance (TCG) seek to account for the increasing involvement of nonstate and substate actors in global climate policy. While transnational actors have been present in the emerging field of solar geoengineering—a novel technology intended to reflect a fraction of sunlight back to space to reduce climate impacts— many of their most significant activities, including knowledge dissemination, scientific capacity building, and conventional lobbying, are not captured by the TCG framework. Insofar as TCG is identified with transnational governance and transnational governance is important to reducing climate risks, an incomplete TCG framework is problematic for effective policy making. We attribute this shortcoming on the part of TCG to its exclusive focus on steering and corollary exclusion of influence as a critical component of governance. Exercising influence, for example, through inside and outside lobbying, is an important part of transnational governance—it complements direct governing with indirect efforts to inform, persuade, pressure, or otherwise influence both governor and governed. Based on an empirical analysis of solar geoengineering research governance and a theoretical consideration of alternative literatures, including research on interest groups and nonstate advocacy, we call for a broader theory of transnational governance that integrates steering and influence in a way that accounts for the full array of nonstate and substate engagements beyond the state.
Horton, Joshua B., Penehuro Lefale, and David Keith. “Parametric Insurance for Solar Geoengineering: Insights from the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative.” Global Policy, no. Special Issue (2020). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering (SG) entails using technology to modify the Earth's radiative balance to offset some of the climate changes caused by long‐lived greenhouse gases. Parametric insurance, which delivers payouts when specific physical indices (such as wind speed) cross predefined thresholds, was recently proposed by two of us as a compensation mechanism for SG with the potential to ease disagreements about the technology and to facilitate cooperative deployment; we refer to this proposal as reduced‐rate climate risk insurance for solar geoengineering, or ‘RCG’. Here we probe the plausibility of RCG by exploring the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI), a sovereign risk pool providing parametric insurance coverage against tropical cyclones and earthquakes/tsunamis to Pacific island countries since 2013. Tracing the history of PCRAFI and considering regional views on insurance as compensation necessitates reconfiguring RCG in a way that shifts the focus away from bargaining between developed and developing countries toward bargaining among developed countries. This revised version of RCG is challenged by an assumption of broad developed country support for sovereign climate insurance in the developing world, but it also better reflects the underlying incentive structure and distribution of power.

Non-Technical Publications

Burns, Lizzie, David Keith, Peter Irvine, and Joshua Horton. “Belfer Technology Factsheet Series: Solar Geoengineering” (2019).Abstract
Solar geoengineering refers to a set of emerging technologies that could alter the Earth’s radiative balance— perhaps through injecting aerosols into the stratosphere, where they would reflect a small fraction of sunlight back into space—reducing the amount of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. It could not replace reducing emissions (mitigation), coping with a changing climate (adaptation), or carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Yet it does have the potential to supplement these efforts, and it might provide reductions in climate risk that are unachievable by other means.