The new assessment also considered, for the first time, the effects on ozone of a potential type of climate intervention, or geoengineering. The method,known as stratospheric aerosol injection, is meant to cool the atmosphere by using airplanes or other means to distribute sulfur aerosols to reflect some of the sun’s rays before they reach the surface.
The idea has drawn fierce opposition. Among other objections, opponents say that intervening in the climate in this way could have severe unintended consequences, potentially altering weather patterns worldwide. But many scientists and others say that at the least, research is needed, because warming may reach a point where the world becomes desperate to try such an intervention technique, perhaps temporarily to buy time before greenhouse gas reductions can have a significant effect.
Dr. Fahey of NOAA said that some studies had shown an impact on ozone of sulfur aerosols, so the assessment team was given the task of looking into it.
The protocol “exists to protect the ozone layer, and we’ve done a pretty good job of it in dealing with ozone-depleting substances,” he said. Looking at stratospheric aerosol injection, “is in our wheelhouse,” he added.
There is a lot of uncertainty in their findings, Dr. Fahey said, but the basic message is that trying to cool the planet by 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit), say, through the use of sulfur aerosols, would have some effect on ozone. But it “will not destroy the ozone layer and create catastrophic consequences,” he said.
“We actually already knew that because Mount Pinatubo did the experiment for us,” he said, referring to the huge volcanic explosion in the Philippines in 1991 that sent enormous amounts of sulfur gas into the stratosphere, creating an aerosol haze akin to a geoengineering effort.
That eruption temporarily cooled the planet by about 0.5 degree Celsius, Dr. Fahey said. But the ozone layer did not collapse. “It has resilience,” he said