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Space-based geoengineering: challenges and requirements

McInnes, C.R. (2010) Space-based geoengineering: challenges and requirements. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part C: Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, 224 (3). pp. 571-580. ISSN 0954-4062

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The prospect of engineering the Earth's climate (geoengineering) raises a multitude of issues associated with climatology, engineering on macroscopic scales, and indeed the ethics of such ventures. Depending on personal views, such large-scale engineering is either an obvious necessity for the deep future, or yet another example of human conceit. In this article a simple climate model will be used to estimate requirements for engineering the Earth's climate, principally using space-based geoengineering. Active cooling of the climate to mitigate anthropogenic climate change due to a doubling of the carbon dioxide concentration in the Earth's atmosphere is considered. This representative scenario will allow the scale of the engineering challenge to be determined. It will be argued that simple occulting discs at the interior Lagrange point may represent a less complex solution than concepts for highly engineered refracting discs proposed recently. While engineering on macroscopic scales can appear formidable, emerging capabilities may allow such ventures to be seriously considered in the long term. This article is not an exhaustive review of geoengineering, but aims to provide a foretaste of the future opportunities, challenges, and requirements for space-based geoengineering ventures.