Articles | Volume 18, issue 4
Research article
27 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 27 Feb 2018

Sulfur deposition changes under sulfate geoengineering conditions: quasi-biennial oscillation effects on the transport and lifetime of stratospheric aerosols

Daniele Visioni, Giovanni Pitari, Paolo Tuccella, and Gabriele Curci

Abstract. Sustained injection of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the tropical lower stratosphere has been proposed as a climate engineering technique for the coming decades. Among several possible environmental side effects, the increase in sulfur deposition deserves additional investigation. In this study we present results from a composition–climate coupled model (University of L'Aquila Composition-Chemistry Model, ULAQ-CCM) and a chemistry-transport model (Goddard Earth Observing System Chemistry-Transport Model, GEOS-Chem), assuming a sustained lower-stratospheric equatorial injection of 8 Tg SO2 yr−1. Total S deposition is found to globally increase by 5.2 % when sulfate geoengineering is deployed, with a clear interhemispheric asymmetry (+3.8 and +10.3 % in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) and the Southern Hemisphere (SH), due to +2.2 and +1.8 Tg S yr−1, respectively). The two models show good consistency, both globally and on a regional scale under background and geoengineering conditions, except for S-deposition changes over Africa and the Arctic. The consistency exists with regard to time-averaged values but also with regard to monthly and interannual deposition changes. The latter is driven essentially by the variability in stratospheric large-scale transport associated with the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO). Using an externally nudged QBO, it is shown how a zonal wind E shear favors aerosol confinement in the tropical pipe and a significant increase in their effective radius (+13 % with respect to W shear conditions). The net result is an increase in the downward cross-tropopause S flux over the tropics with dominant E shear conditions with respect to W shear periods (+0.61 Tg S yr−1, +42 %, mostly due to enhanced aerosol gravitational settling) and a decrease over the extratropics (−0.86 Tg S yr−1, −35 %, mostly due to decreased large-scale stratosphere–troposphere exchange of geoengineering sulfate). This translates into S-deposition changes that are significantly different under opposite QBO wind shears, with an E–W anomaly of +0.32 in the tropics and −0.67 Tg S yr−1 in the extratropics. Most online QBO schemes predict a significant change in the zonal wind periodicity, up to a blocked E shear condition for large enough injections, so that our results indicate an upper limit for the tropical increase in S deposition of 16.5 % relative to average conditions of unperturbed QBO periodicity and a correspondent extratropical S deposition decrease of 16 %.

Short summary
Sulfate geoengineering is a proposed technique that would mimic explosive volcanic eruptions by injecting sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere to counteract global warming produced by greenhouse gases by reflecting part of the incoming solar radiation. In this study we use two models to simulate how the injected aerosols would react to dynamical changes in the stratosphere (due to the quasi-biennial oscillation - QBO) and how this would affect the deposition of sulfate at the surface.
Final-revised paper