Second DECIMALS Research Residency at Harvard

On 5-8 July 2022 the Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program (SGRP) hosted a research residency for DECIMALS research scientists. The residency offered a unique chance for SRM researchers from around the world to meet in person, share ideas, and develop better ways to explore the impacts of sunlight reflection methods (SRM). Participants included DECIMALS researchers from Jamaica, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Africa and Argentina. The residency was an opportunity for the scientists to discuss their current research projects, future plans, and the reliability of data collection methods and models with other prominent SRM researchers from Harvard, Cornell and Utrecht University.

The DECIMALS researchers outside the Widener Library, Harvard University. Left to right: Dr Md. Abu Syed, Dr Heri Kuswanto, Dr Romaric Odoulami, Dr Leonardo Clarke, Dr Ines Camilloni​, Dr Roxann Stennett-Brown. Credit: The Degrees Initiative.
A Unique Opportunity for Knowledge Sharing and International Collaboration

The DECIMALS researchers attended a variety of seminars that explored the scientific, economic, philosophical and ecological dimensions of SRM.

A lecture from Britta Clark explored the ethical dimensions of SRM in a session called “How to Argue About Solar Geoengineering”. Clark led a discussion on consistency in SRM analysis, and the importance of comparing the risks of a world with SRM with the risks of a hotter world without SRM.

When Jonathan Proctor presented on SRM’s potential impacts on agriculture, he was pressed by the DECIMALS scientists on the challenges of modelling regional climate impacts. Similarly, Yakir Preisler’s talk on how SRM could affect forest ecology served to underline how hard it is both to model the impacts of global warming and also the effects of SRM used to counter it.

Tony Harding presented a 2020 paper that evaluated the global economic impacts of cooling the planet using SRM. The research used a modelling approach from an influential 2015 paper by Burke et al and found that a very high degree of SRM cooling—reducing temperatures back below the pre-industrial average—would significantly increase economic output for most developing regions. This research naturally begs the question: would such cooling really produce an economic boost in the world’s hotter regions or is there a flaw in the economic model?

Wake Smith from Yale University presented on the engineering dimensions of SRM deployment. The residency participants discussed how some models simulate aerosol injection at 30° north and 30° south, noting how few countries own airstrips that far south, perhaps indicating how important international collaboration would be for SRM deployment.

Collaboration was a theme of Joshua Horton’s session on the global governance of SRM. Researchers discussed unilateral vs. minilateral deployment, moral hazard, security concerns, liability issues, and risks associated with termination shock. The residency participants agreed these issues are crucial considerations if SRM is ever seriously considered for deployment, especially for developing and climate-vulnerable countries.

Dr Md. Abu Syed discussing climate modelling with fellow participants. Credit: The Degrees Initiative.
Fostering Community Building and Learning

Overall the research residency was an invaluable opportunity to bring together SRM researchers from the Global South and North. The pandemic showed the potential of collaborating using videoconferencing, and it also showed its limits. The residency participants were pleased to be able to attend conferences again in person and to have deeper group discussions than are possible on Zoom.

The Degrees Initiative’s long-term mission is to change the global environment in which SRM will be evaluated, ensuring informed representation from developing countries. Building a well-socialised international community of experts is a key step along the way, and events like the Harvard research residency are a key part of this.

Dr Leonardo Clarke, PI of the DECIMALS research project at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, said: “Getting to attend an event such as this allows researchers from my region to be exposed to the research that is being done, while giving us the opportunity to present our future research ideas and get feedback from the international community”.

DECIMALS scientist Dr Abu Syed, Managing Director of the Centre for Rediscovered and Redefined Natural Resources Research and Education (C4RE), believes the residency and presentations gave him a “better understanding of systems design and costs, as well as potential impacts or issues that are to be considered during modelling”.

Dr Inés Camilloni of the University of Buenos Aires agreed: “Here we have the opportunity to network among other DECIMALS researchers as well as other collaborators that have much more experience than us in this subject. So this is the best opportunity for us in the Global South to be part of the conversation”.

The residency allowed for conversations on practical challenges that the researchers often face when conducting their work, from data accessibility challenges—be it about getting sufficient observation data or downloading large SRM modelling datasets with limited internet access—to the lack of easily accessible high-resolution datasets to better evaluate how SRM may affect tropical cyclones. This feedback provided the Degrees Initiative with crucial information on how to better support new researchers looking to develop expertise within the SRM field. We are grateful to David Keith and the Harvard SGRP for putting on the event.

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Attendees at the research residency:

  • Dr Romaric Odoulami, University of Cape Town
  • Dr Abu Syed, Centre for Rediscovered and Redefined Natural Resources Research and Education (C4RE) & Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS)
  • Dr Heri Kuswanto, Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember (Indonesia)
  • Dr Inés Camilloni, University of Buenos Aires & CONICET (Argentina)
  • Dr Leonardo Clarke, University of the West Indies (Jamaica)
  • Dr Roxann Stennett-Brown, University of the West Indies (Jamaica)
  • Prof. David Keith, Harvard University (USA)
  • Dr Claudia Wieners, Utrecht University (Netherlands)
  • Dr Daniele Visioni, Cornell University (USA)

List of residency seminars:

  • Empirically Based Impact Projections by Dr Anthony Harding
  • Potential Impact of Solar Radiation on Ecology by Dr Yakir Presler
  • How Deployment might be Undertaken in Regards to SRM by Wake Smith
  • Global Governance of Solar Engineering by Dr Joshua Horton
  • Solar Variability and Surface Temperature Sensitivity by Prof. Peter Huybers
  • Agricultural Impacts of Solar Geoengineering: Process-Based and Statistical Models by Dr Jon Proctor
  • SRM from Philosophical Perspectives by Britta Clark