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Scientists weigh potential side effects of blocking sun to stop temperature rises: 'Highly contentious topic'

"It is impossible to predict exactly what positive and negative outcomes could result."

"It is impossible to predict exactly what positive and negative outcomes could result."

Photo Credit: iStock

The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which store about two-thirds of all freshwater in the world, are consistently melting because of the overheating of our planet. Now, scientists are considering a controversial method of mitigating the damage and stopping the melting in its tracks.

An international team of researchers is using simulations to study the possible effects of geoengineering, which in this case would involve injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to block the sun and artificially cool the air around the ice sheets, halting the melting.

"Stratospheric aerosol injection, or SAI, would artificially introduce aerosols into the stratosphere by aircraft or high-altitude balloons to create a cooling effect via global dimming and increased albedo — the degree to which Earth reflects sunlight," said John C. Moore, a professor at the University of Lapland in Finland and one of the leaders of the research team.

While this method could help to cool the planet (somewhat ironically, since aerosol air pollution is partially what got us into this situation in the first place) it remains highly controversial, with many potential side effects that could result in more harm than good.

"While this study shows that SAI could contribute to the protection of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and hence, potentially, all other ice cover on Earth, geoengineering is a highly contentious topic," Ralf Greve, a professor at Japan's Hokkaido University and the other leader of the team, said. "The biggest issue is that it addresses only the symptoms of global warming, not the root causes — and may even delay the changes required to address the causes. Furthermore, due to the immense complexity of the natural systems on Earth, it is impossible to predict exactly what positive and negative outcomes could result."

Still, stopping the ice sheets from melting is crucial — as the ice sheets melt, they result in rising sea levels that, in turn, result in coastal flooding all over the world, rendering large swaths of land increasingly uninhabitable and destroying people's homes.

But as Professor Greve indicated, solutions like this one should probably be extreme last resorts, and more immediate steps should be to, as he said, address the root causes instead of just treating the symptoms. That means cutting our dependence on polluting dirty energy sources like gas and oil and turning instead to clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

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