As Indonesia’s Mount Agung continues to spew ash and clouds, climate scientists are preparing to study just how much the eruption will cool the earth — and what we can learn from the phenomenon about cooling the earth ourselves.
Douglas MacMartin, a senior research associate and senior lecturer in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, has authored a series of recent papers on how to mimic volcanoes by injecting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. The process, known as geoengineering, could mitigate the effects of climate change. He says the Agung eruption could provide some important lessons for geoengineering.
“Large volcanic eruptions, such as Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, and perhaps Agung in 2017 if it is large enough, cool the planet for a year or more by putting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere where it forms sulfate aerosols that reflect sunlight. In principle, humans could deliberately do the same thing to help manage some impacts of climate change, an idea referred to as geoengineering.
“There are a lot of concerns and uncertainties surrounding this idea, but we may be able to learn something about this from observing the stratospheric response to the Agung eruption, which would help improve how climate models represent processes such as sulfate aerosol formation and upper atmospheric chemistry.”