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Shiny crops can prevent climate change by reflecting more sunlight

United Kingdom
Ben Webster

Planting varieties of crops that reflect more sunlight could help to protect against catastrophic climate change, a study has found.

Some types of wheat and barley have glossier surfaces that, if widely planted, could send a small proportion of the Sun’s heat back to space and reduce the average summer temperature in Europe by more than 1C, the study by the University of Bristol says.

The idea will be discussed today at a conference at the Royal Society in London on artificial ways of cooling the planet, known collectively as geoengineering.

Most of the proposed methods carry the risk of serious side-effects that could be worse than the global warming they are designed to counter. Some scientists have suggested firing millions of mirrors into space to reflect sunlight or launching fleets of nuclear-powered ships that would criss-cross the oceans sucking up seawater to create sun-shielding clouds.

But the proposal for using crops is relatively risk-free because it involves using existing varieties of seeds on land already under cultivation. The arrangement of the leaves and stems can also increase the amount of sunlight that is reflected rather than absorbed.

Plants have naturally developed these traits in order to protect themselves from overheating and dehydration.

Joy Singarayer and Andy Ridgwell, of the University of Bristol, studied the reflectivity of different types of crops and also assessed the potential for planting them over wide areas. Dr Singarayer said: “The concept of using increased reflectivity to manipulate our climate is, in fact, an ancient one. Humankind has for centuries painted settlements white to reflect the sun and keep cool. We could now realise the opportunities to do this on a much bigger scale via our agricultural plantations.”

They found that the particularly dense agricultural regions covering Europe, North America and southern Asia were best suited to using crops for cooling.

They suggest that agricultural policy in these regions could be revised to encourage the planting of the most reflective varieties.

The study concludes: “An increase of 20 per cent in crop canopy albedo [reflectivity] could provide Europe with an average summertime cooling of over 1C. This would be one fifth of the total mitigation required to regionally offset a doubling of carbon dioxide, or up to 50 per cent of that required to offset summer warming over Europe in the mid-21st century under a moderate global warming scenario.”

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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