Geoengineering, the deliberate large-scale manipulation of earth's energy balance to counteract global warming, is an attractive proposition for sparsely populated deserts. We use the BNU and UVic Earth system models to simulate the effects of irrigating deserts under the RCP8.5 scenario. Previous studies focused on increasing desert albedo to reduce global warming; in contrast we examine how extending afforestation and ecological projects, that successfully improve regional environments, fair for geoengineering purposes. As expected desert irrigation allows vegetation to grow, with bare soil or grass gradually becoming shrub or tree covered, with increases in terrestrial carbon storage of 90.3 Pg C (UVic-ESCM)-143.9 Pg C (BNU-ESM). Irrigating global deserts makes the land surface temperature decrease by 0.48 °C and land precipitation increase by 100 mm yr-1. In the irrigated areas, BNU-ESM simulates significant cooling of up to 4.2 °C owing to the increases in low cloud and latent heat which counteract the warming effect due to decreased surface albedo. Large volumes of water would be required to maintain global desert irrigation, equivalent 10 mm/year of global sea level (BNU-ESM) compensate for evapotranspiration losses. Differences in climate responses between the deserts prompt research into tailored albedo-irrigation schemes.
Field of science
- Environmental sciences