Could aerosol emissions be used for regional heat wave mitigation?
Geoengineering applications by injection of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere are under consideration as a measure of last resort to counter global warming. Here a potential regional-scale application to offset the impacts of heat waves is critically examined. Using the Weather Research and Forecasting model with fully coupled chemistry (WRF-Chem), the effect of regional-scale sulfate aerosol emission over California in each of two days of the July 2006 heat wave is used to quantify potential reductions in surface temperature as a function of emission rates in a layer at 12 km altitude. Local meteorological factors yield geographical differences in surface air temperature sensitivity. For emission rates of approximately 30 μg m −2 s −1 of sulfate aerosols (with standard WRF-Chem size distribution) over the region, temperature decreases of around 7 °C result during the middle part of the day over the Central Valley, one of the areas hardest hit by the heat wave. Regions more ventilated with oceanic air such as Los Angeles have slightly smaller reductions. The length of the hottest part of the day is also reduced. Advection effects on the aerosol cloud must be more carefully forecast for smaller injection regions. Verification of the impacts could be done via measurements of differences in reflected and surface downward shortwave. Such regional geoengineering applications with specific near-term target effects but smaller cost and side effects could potentially provide a means of testing larger scale applications. However, design considerations for regional applications, such as a preference for injection at a level of relatively low wind speed, differ from those for global applications. The size of the required injections and the necessity of injection close to the target region raise substantial concerns. The evaluation of this regional-scale application is thus consistent with global model evaluations, emphasizing that mitigation via reduction of fossil fuels remains preferable to considering geoengineering with sulfate aerosols.