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HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Professor of Public Policy, HKS; Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, SEAS


Stratospheric sulfate geoengineering (SSG) could contribute to avoiding some of the adverse impacts of climate change. We used the SOCOL-AER global aerosol–chemistry–climate model to investigate 21 different SSG scenarios, each with 1.83?Mt?S?yr-1 injected either in the form of accumulation-mode H2SO4 droplets (AM H2SO4), gas-phase SO2 or as combinations of both. For most scenarios, the sulfur was continuously emitted at an altitude of 50?hPa (˜20?km) in the tropics and subtropics. We assumed emissions to be zonally and latitudinally symmetric around the Equator. The spread of emissions ranged from 3.75°?S–3.75°?N to 30°?S–30°?N. In the SO2 emission scenarios, continuous production of tiny nucleation-mode particles results in increased coagulation, which together with gaseous H2SO4 condensation, produces coarse-mode particles. These large particles are less effective for backscattering solar radiation and have a shorter stratospheric residence time than AM H2SO4 particles. On average, the stratospheric aerosol burden and corresponding all-sky shortwave radiative forcing for the AM H2SO4 scenarios are about 37?% larger than for the SO2 scenarios. The simulated stratospheric aerosol burdens show a weak dependence on the latitudinal spread of emissions. Emitting at 30°?N–30°?S instead of 10°?N–10°?S only decreases stratospheric burdens by about 10?%. This is because a decrease in coagulation and the resulting smaller particle size is roughly balanced by faster removal through stratosphere-to-troposphere transport via tropopause folds. Increasing the injection altitude is also ineffective, although it generates a larger stratospheric burden, because enhanced condensation and/or coagulation leads to larger particles, which are less effective scatterers. In the case of gaseous SO2 emissions, limiting the sulfur injections spatially and temporally in the form of point and pulsed emissions reduces the total global annual nucleation, leading to less coagulation and thus smaller particles with increased stratospheric residence times. Pulse or point emissions of AM H2SO4 have the opposite effect: they decrease the stratospheric aerosol burden by increasing coagulation and only slightly decrease clear-sky radiative forcing. This study shows that direct emission of AM H2SO4 results in higher radiative forcing for the same sulfur equivalent mass injection strength than SO2 emissions, and that the sensitivity to different injection strategies varies for different forms of injected sulfur.


Vattioni, Sandro, Debra Weisenstein, David Keith, Aryeh Feinberg, Thomas Peter, and Andrea Stenke. "Exploring Accumulation-Mode H2SO4 Versus SO2 Stratospheric Sulfate Geoengineering in a Sectional Aerosol-Chemistry-Climate Model." Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 19.7 (April 2019): 4877-4897.