David Keith joins the University of Chicago to lead the Climate Systems Engineering Initiative

Renowned scientist David Keith joined the University of Chicago as a professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences to explore the engineering of climate systems.

Keith has worked at the interface of climate science, technology and public policy for more than three decades, and is at the forefront of efforts to advance scientific and policy analysis of geo- solar engineering.

As nations scramble to start moving away from fossil fuels, experts say even rapidly eliminating carbon emissions cannot address the climate risks posed by the carbon already in the atmosphere. To avoid the effects of rapid climate change, some have suggested using human technological intervention to mitigate the effects of climate change.

At UChicago, Keith will lead a new climate systems engineering initiative, which will explore several such strategies, including methods to reflect sunlight away from Earth, ranging from injecting particles into the stratosphere to using ocean salt crystals to clear low clouds. Other strategies could include ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and more localized interventions, such as protecting glaciers.

However, because interventions can have global impacts, these technologies create moral, social, and political challenges that require deep and far-reaching thought and discourse.

New professors will be hired as part of the Climate Systems Engineering initiative. The goal of the initiative is to support new faculty with diverse expertise as well as current scholars at UChicago and beyond who strive to understand the intertwined technical and social challenges posed by solar geoengineering and carbon removal.

“Climate engineering technologies can enable humans to protect themselves and the environment in ways that cannot be achieved by reducing emissions alone. Yet these technologies carry environmental risks and pose profound challenges for governance. No one should be sure whether to adopt or abandon these methods,” Keith said. “My only safe statement about climate engineering is that open collaborative research is essential today to inform the decisions that our children will have to take tomorrow. I am thrilled to join the University of Chicago with its commitment to open debate and its legacy of fighting society’s greatest tests.

Keith previously served as the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He led the development of Harvard’s solar geoengineering research program.

His work ranges from the climate impacts of large-scale wind power to obtaining expert climate judgments. Keith’s hardware engineering projects include the first interferometer for atoms, a high-precision infrared spectrometer for NASA’s ER-2, and the development of a stratospheric rocket-balloon experiment for solar geoengineering. He is also the founder of Carbon Engineering, a company developing technology for capturing CO2 from ambient air and the author of A case for climate engineering (MIT Press, 2013).

UChicago’s new Climate Systems Engineering Initiative will bring together systems engineering tools and climate systems science to study these emerging technologies. It joins growing areas of research in related topics as diverse as energy storage, climate science, economics, environmental policy, sustainability, human behavior, history and science of environment already underway at the University of Chicago. It will draw on the expertise of the Department of Geophysical Sciences, in atmospheric and climate sciences, computational modeling and simulation, and geophysical dynamics, as well as other campus departments and divisions.

“I have learned so much from David Keith over the years and am honored to have him now as a colleague,” said Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the Institute. University of Chicago. “The University of Chicago has long been unafraid to foster understanding in areas that directly impact human well-being. I am confident that the Climate Systems Engineering Initiative will help the world better manage the global climate and energy challenge that all societies currently face and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

“As barrels of atmospheric CO2 exceed the safety limit of 350ppm, we need to think about how to control things like permafrost, ice caps and rainforests,” said David Archer, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. geophysical sciences. “We must prevent irreversible changes to the Earth system, while our descendants work for the decades it will take to clean up our CO2 mess.”

“Geoengineering is a controversial new tool in our toolbox to not only better understand the science of climate change, including the impact of aerosols on clouds, winds and precipitation, but also potentially to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis,” said Tiffany Shaw. , associate professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences.

The initiative will bring together experts from across the University to explore geoengineering challenges surrounding human behavior and values, political, governance and legal structures, equity impacts, and more.

One of the main goals is risk analysis – to be able to quantify our uncertainty about the risks and benefits of solar geoengineering.

The initiative will require new materials, high-powered computing, and innovative chemical and engineering strategies. Keith plans to partner with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory affiliated with UChicago with deep expertise in engineering, climate science, and computer modeling, as well as with supercomputing facilities such as the upcoming Aurora supercomputer.

Since any effort to engineer climate systems would have global effects, Keith said the UChicago initiative will also seek partnerships around the world, because “human decisions that could alter Earth’s future will not can be confined to a single nation”.

“I am delighted to join our faculty in welcoming David Keith to the University of Chicago,” said President Paul Alivisatos. “He brings with him deep expertise and a spirit of innovation, which will prove invaluable in our efforts to better understand and find solutions to the challenges of the inextricably linked systems that underpin human energy, technology and life. ‘environment. With his arrival, we look forward to new horizons of discovery and impact in the emerging field of climate systems engineering.

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