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«Long-Range Weather Prediction And Prevention of Climate Catastrophes: A Status Report E. Teller, K. Caldeira, G. Canavan, B. Govindasamy, A. ...»

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Long-Range Weather Prediction And

Prevention of Climate Catastrophes:

A Status Report

E. Teller, K. Caldeira, G. Canavan,

B. Govindasamy, A. Grossman, R. Hyde,

M. Ishikawa, A. Ledebuhr, C. Leith,

C. Molenkamp, J. Nuckolls, L. Wood

This paper was prepared for submittal to the

24th International Seminar on Planetary Emergencies Erice, Italy August 19 - 24, 1999 August l&l999 This is a preprint of a paper intended for publication in a journal or proceedings.

Since changes may be made before publication, this preprint is made available with the understanding that it will not be cited or reproduced without the permission of the author.


This document was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United StatesGovernment.

Neither the United States Government nor the University of California nor any of their employees, makes any warranty~ express or implied. or as~umc~any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus,product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name. trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United Stares Government of the University of California. The views and opinions of authors expressedherein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or the University of California, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsementpurposes.

Work performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by the Lawrence Liver-more National Laboratory under Contract W-7405-Eng-48.





Edward Teller, Kenneth Caldeira, Gregory Canavan, Bala Govindasamy, Allen Grossman, Roderick Hyde, Muriel Ishikawa, Arno Ledebuhr, Cecil Leith, Charles Molenkamp, John Nuckolls & Lowell Wood+ Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305-6010, and University of California Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545 and Livermore, CA 94550 U.S.A.


As the human population of Earth continues to expand and to demand an ever-higher quality-of-life, requirements for ever-greater knowledge - and then control - of the future of the state of the terrestrial biosphere grow apace. Convenience of living - and, indeed, reliability of life itself become ever more highly ‘ tuned’ to the future physical condition of the biosphere being knowable & not markedly different than the present one, Two years ago, we reported at a quantitative albeit conceptual level on technical ways-and-means of forestalling large-scalechangesin the present climate, employing practical means of modulating insolation and/or the Earth’ mean albedo. Last year, we reported on early work aimed at s developing means for creating detailed, high-fidelity, all-Earth weather forecasts of two weeks’ duration, exploiting recent and anticipated advancesin extremely high-performance digital computing and in atmosphere-observingEarth satellites bearing high-technology instrumentation.

This year, we report on recent progress in both of these areas of endeavor. Preventing the commencementof large-scale changes in the current climate presently appearsto be a considerably more interesting prospect than initially realized, as modest insolation reductions are model-predicted to offset the anticipated impacts of ‘global warming’ surprisingly precisely, in both space and time.

Also, continued study has not revealed any fundamental difficulties in any of the means proposed for insolation modulation and, indeed, applicability of some of these techniques to other planets in the inner Solar system seemspromising. Implementation of the high-fidelity, long-range weatherforecasting capability presently appears substantially easier with respect to required populations of Earth satellites and atmospheric transponders and data-processing systems, and more complicated with respect to transponder lifetimes in the actual atmosphere; overall, the enterprise seemsmore technically feasible than originally anticipated.

As might have been expected a priori, greater knowledge of natural processesand greater possibility of control over them seem to advance together in this case - as they do in so many others.

*Preparedfor presentationat the 24* International Seminar on PlanetaryEmergencies,Erice, Italy, 19-24 August 1999.

Researchperformed in part under the auspicesof the US. Department of Energy, under ContractsW-740%eng-36 and

-48 with the University of California. Opinions are those of the authors only.

+ Corresponding author

-lIntroduction. Human fecundity is so great that humanity apparently has almost always lived “on the edge,” right up against the limits of the carrying-capacity of the physical environment for the speciesat the then-current levels of technology, e.g.,. with respect to habitation, food-acquisition and diseasecontrol. Only in the present era and only among modest fractions of the human race e.g., throughout the First and in much of the SecondWorld - is the population significantly less than the maximum currently possible. Small variations in the physical conditions of the human portion of the biosphere - e.g., rainfall or peak daily surface-air temperature over the next few months - thus continue to be of literally vital significance for the majority of the human race and knowledge of near-term variability of these conditions is of at least considerablesignificant to everyone. Large-scale and/or large-amplitude variations in biospheric conditions only quite recently observed to occur over the past few hundred millennia surely shapedthe human race profoundly making us what we are today” - and similarly large variations would be at least profoundly inconvenient and quite possibly massively lethal even today, depending on the time-scales on which they were to B-occur.

These prospectshave engaged our attention especially over the past few years, over which interval the seeming fragility of present climatic conditions has become more apparentto every informed observer. At the same time, we note that human capabilities for seeing further, more quantitatively and with greater reliability into the comparatively near future continue to advanceexceedingly rapidly during the past few decades,and presently are already so great that it seemsfeasible to undertake to understand in great detail the future meteorological state of the atmospherefor futuretime durations as long as a few weeks. Likewise, the prospect of purposeful human action to forestall climatic catastrophes- any relatively abrupt, large-scalechangesin climate - seem quite near at hand technologically, and thus to merit serious consideration.

Climate Catastrophes. During the past decade,geophysicistshave become extraordinarily adept at retrieving and analyzing more-or-less quantitative indicators of past climate and associated atmospheric conditions, ranging from seabottom cores to those of icepacks of Greenland and Antarctica. At present, the scientific community has laying before it records of global climate and atmosphericcomposition extending back through four large-scaleglaciation cycles occurring during the past half-million years, from the Vostok site in Antarctica and, of even greater present interest, analysesof annual climatic variations over the Northern Hemisphere going back for the past 150 millennia, from the GRIP sites in Greenland. These very extendedice-core-derived time-series are supplementedby other climatic records, notably from seabottom cores, which extend back with reasonably good temporal resolution back for a few dozen millennia, well into the most recent epoch of intenseglaciation.

The fundamental picture which emergesfi-om these analysesis one of significant, cyclic timevariability in major climatological parameters- e.g., mean annual temperature- with many stacked periodicities. For instance, in addition to the well-known -100 millennial cycle of large-scale Northern Hemispheric glaciation, there is evidence for a present-era 1.5 millennium periodicity in Northern Hemispheric temperature of more than 20 cycles’duration and a few kelvins peak-to-peak amplitude, one whose last minimum was 0.4-0.5 millennia ago. Most disturbingly, during the last interglacial epoch, under prevailing global conditions only slightly - perhaps l-2 K - warmer than present-day ones, there were several “cold snaps,” intervals of several decadesto several centuries duration during which the (Northern Hemispheric) mean temperature decreasedlo- 15 K over intervals of a few decades,apparently without significant climatological precursorsor “warnings” at least ones apparent in geophysical records studied through the present. Since mean-temperature conditions duplicating those preceding these earlier ‘cold snaps’are currently model-predicted to occur in “business as usual” climate-changescenariosduring the coming century, it seemsmerely prudent to consider ways-and-meansof preventing their occurrence - the more so as a minor ‘ cold snap’in at least the Northern Hemisphere was very recently discovered to have occurred only 8200 years ago and as large-scalecirculation in the Labrador Sea is currently predicted by some workers to collapse within the next three decades. While “global warming,” if it should occur over-andabove the natural warming to be expected from the 1.5 millennial thermal periodicity just noted, certainly would be far less serious in its human dimensions than would full-scale “cold snaps”, it is also natural f?om a geoengineeringperspectiveto consider technical means of forestalling all-planet warming due to all causes- anthropogenic and natural - should such changesbe determined to be contrary to human interests-in-the-large. These form the bases for our present interest in technologies for preventing “climate catastrophes”of both signs and all magnitudes in mean global temperature-change.

We emphasize,as we did two years ago, that we are advocating on& researchin very modest sub-scaleinto the ways-and-meansof preventing climate catastrophes. We remain acutely consciousof the requirements- ethical if not legal, as well - for an unprecedenteddegree and/or scale of consensuson the part of all mankind before any climate catastrophe-preventionstepsof full-scale are taken. We believe that the knowledge regarding climate catastropheprevention which likely can be obtained by a fully transparent and entirely international researchprogram may be effective in informing democratic political processes which alone must determine whether full-scale attempts to prevent catastrophesof climatic origin should be made.

Current Insolation/Albedo Modulation Technological Prospects. Two years ago, we laid before this Seminar what we believed - and still believe - to be the currently-practical technical basis for incrementally shifting either or both of the incoming sunlight to, or the effective mean albedo of, the Earth, so as to change its temperature by amounts of the order of 1 Kelvin. We suggestedthat controlling the amount of sunlight actually arriving in the lower troposphere- or changing the amount of heat re-radiated by the Earth - seemingly constitute the largest-presentlyavailable levers on the Earth’ mean temperature. Placing scatterersof sunlight of any of several s distinct types within the mid-tropical portion of the mid-stratosphere appeared to be the most mass-efficient way in which to deploy such insolation-reducing material - with the notable exception of a diaphanous scattering-screendeployedjust inward of the Earth-Sun L-l point, which may be slightly beyond current technological reach. Deploying preferential scatterersof thermal in&ared (re-)radiation in similar locations - e.g., what we termed “self-lofting LWIR chaff’ appearedthen to be the most overall-effective meansof decreasingthe effective albedo of the Earth, i.e., of forestalling either a “cold snap” or advent of the next hundred millennia of large-scale glaciation.

Little has changed in these basic respectssince our initial presentation. We have continued to examine and to discusswith colleaguesthese basic approaches,and have identified no significant technical deficiencies with them. We continue to believe that experiments in subscale- involving the deployment of perhaps 1% of a full-scale scattering system, one whose presence could be sensedand studied with sophisticatedtechnical means but which would have completely imperceptible climatic consequences constitute the method-of-choice in moving out in these research directions. The deployment from ground level of either combustion-generatedsubmicroscopic alumina particles or of “self-lofting W/blue chaff’ comprised of mass-economized metallic-surfaced balloons of the same basic type - albeit in far greater numbers - which we propose for atmospheric transponders for long-range weather prediction purposes seem to provide the

–  –  –

Insolation Modulation As An Annroach To Global Warming. Several schemeshave been proposed to counteract the warming influence of increasing atmospheric CO2 content with intentional manipulation of Earth’ radiation balance; ours is merely one of the more recent. Most all s such ‘ geoengineering’ schemesinvolve placing reflectors or scatterersin the stratosphereor in orbit between the Earth and Sun, diminishing the amount of solar radiation incident on the Earth.

However, the radiative forcing from increasedatmosphericcarbon dioxide differs significantly (Figure 1) fi-om that of a change in effective solar luminosity. For example, CO2 traps heat in both day and night over the entire globe, whereas diminished solar radiation would be experienced exclusively in daytime, and on the annual mean most strongly at the equator, and seasonallyin the high-latitude summers (Figure 1). Hence, there is little a priori reason to expect that a reduction in the solar luminosity incident on the Earth would effectively cancel C02-induced climate change.

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