Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Will volcanoes cool the earth?

More than 60,000 would-be air travelers are grounded today in Chile, Argentina and New Zealand, because of ash from the eruption of the Puyehue-Cardon Caulle volcano chain in Chile.

Meanwhile, a volcano which has been dormant for 150 years erupted this week in the east African nation of Eritrea. The Dubbi volcano is spreading ash over that part of the world.

Last month, Iceland's Grimsvatn volcano erupted. And there was considerable activity earlier this spring at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano.

That raises the question, which is being asked in some meteorological circles, if the volcanic activity could put the brakes on the earth's recent warming trend. Joe Bastardi, formerly of Accu-Weather and now with the new private meteorological firm Weather Bell, is a big believer in this.

He says several factors, including reduced solar activity and increased volcanic activity, will drop global temperatures in the next several years.

As always seems to be the case, there's no consensus. But the impact of volcanic eruptions on global temperatures seems to be related to three factors:

-- The height that the ash is sent into the atmosphere. If it gets into the upper part of the stratosphere, there's a greater chance of it being sent around the globe.

-- The amount of ash spewed by a volcano. This is obvious.

-- Where the eruption takes place. The theory seems to be that eruptions near the equator, in tropical areas, are more prone to impact the rest of the world. That's because winds near the equator tend to spread northward and southward (the Coreolis effect).

Eritrea's volcano is not far from the equator, but the eruptions in Iceland and southern Chile are nowhere near the tropics.

There is a history of volcanoes affecting the world's climate, however.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 cooled global temperatures for two or three years, meteorologists say. Those were among the few years in recent decades when global temperatures didn't rise.

Perhaps the greatest example was in 1815, when Tambora erupted in Indonesia, sending thick clouds of ash around the world for several years. Temperatures in 1816 were far below average, and it was known in the United States as the "Year Without A Summer."

In fact, snow fell on June 6, 1816, in Albany, N.Y. Drought was widespread throughout the United States and Europe, and the winter of 1817 was among the coldest in U.S. history.

The current eruptions pale in comparison to Tambora, but keep in mind that some meteorologists believe 2011's volcanic activity could put a damper on global warming.


Anonymous said...

Oh Man! How many comments before the tin foil hat types come out on this one?

Anonymous said...

This would be in line with my opinion on the subject - that global warming is real, but is far from 100% man-made. Note the prediction of "reduced solar activity" - the alarmists have completely dismissed solar activity as a factor in rising temperatures. To the alarmists, global warming is 100% man-made and the only solutions are for rich nations and people to have their wealth taken and redistributed to poor countries and people. Facts are irrelevant.

Trying to produce cleaner energy and reduce greenhouse gases are good for the planet and the right thing to do, and I'm all for them. I just hate it when people wrap their political agenda around the condition of the Earth.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering about this yesterday! Thanks Weather Guy! Maybe there is more to the earth and the universe than we know.

Could the ash somehow help rebuild the ozone layer as well or would the changes most likely be temporary?

Steve Lyttle said...

To answer anonymous ... the changes would be temporary. Even that Tambora eruption affected things for only a few years.

Anonymous said...

Of course this never got a link on the front page of charlotteobserver.com, did it?

I'm not saying I believe one way or another but it would quiet the Observer's critics if just once these sort of blog entries were spread wide. Next time that people accuse Steve Lyttle of being on the Al Gore bandwagon at least some of us will know the truth.

Carla said...

What happened with the ashes in Argentina was really strange. Noone saw it coming. I believe this does have an impact on earth that we will start seeing in the future. I was there when it happened. I was actually trying to rent apartments in buenos aires  at the time I heard the news. Apparently, people were saying it was not as bad as news shows announced. There was kind of a panic at the moment. Nowadays we can say everthing was restablished and there is almost no trace of what happened!

Jim C. said...

Odd. Joe Bastard-i keeps denying that warming is still happening, then says that volcanoes may quell it. Does that loudmouth know where he actually stands beyond some sound-byte of the day?

I also hope he doesn't think Man is putting out less CO2 than volcanoes, which is patently false.

To the blogger: You often preface anything to do with climate change by saying you're "not getting into that debate," but you ought to at least stop quoting documented liars like Bastardi as valid sources on the topic.