Chile's volcano not likely to affect the climate

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:01 PM GMT on May 19, 2008

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It's been a busy month for natural disasters, and I haven't found time to talk about Chile's Chaiten volcano, 760 miles (1,220 km) south of the capital Santiago. The volcano started erupting on May 2 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing ash, gas and molten rock into the air, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. Did this mighty eruption have a cooling effect on the climate?


Figure 1. This May 5, 2008 image from NASA's Terra satellite caught Chaiten erupting. Image credit: NASA.

Many historic volcanic eruptions have had a major cooling impact on Earth's climate. However, Chaiten is very unlikely to be one of them. To see why this is, let's examine recent volcanic eruptions that have had a significant cooling effect on the climate. In the past 200 years, Mt. Pinatubo in the Phillipines (June 1991), El Chichon (Mexico, 1982), Mt. Agung (Indonesia, 1963), Santa Maria (Guatemala, 1902) Krakatoa (Indonesia, 1883), and Tambora (1815) all created noticeable cooling. As one can see from a plot of the solar radiation reaching Mauna Loa in Hawaii (Figure 2), the Mt. Pinatubo and El Chichon eruptions caused a greater than 10% drop in sunlight reaching the surface. The eruption of Tambora in 1815 had an even greater impact, triggering the famed Year Without a Summer in 1816. Killing frosts and snowstorms in May and June 1816 in Eastern Canada and New England caused widespread crop failures, and lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania in July and August. Volcanic eruptions cause this kind of climate cooling by throwing large amounts of sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere. This gas reacts with water to form sulphuric acid droplets (aerosol particles), which are highly reflective, and reduce the amount of incoming sunlight.

You'll notice from the list of eruptions above that all of these climate-cooling events were from volcanoes in the tropics. Above the tropics, the stratosphere's circulation features rising air, which pulls the sulfur-containing volcanic aerosols high into the stratosphere, where the upper-level winds circulate them all around the globe. These aerosol particles take a year or two to settle back down to earth, since there is no rain in the stratosphere to help remove them. However, if a major volcanic eruption occurs in the mid-latitudes or polar regions, the circulation of the stratosphere in those regions generally features downward subsiding air, and the volcanic aerosol particles are not able to penetrate high in the stratosphere and get carried all around the globe. Chaiten is located near 40° south latitude, far from the tropics, and thus is unlikely to be able to inject significant amounts of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere. Furthermore, the character of Chaiten's eruptions so far has been to eject a lot of silica and not much sulfur into the air. The total amount of sulfur ejected has been only about 1/10000 of what Mt. Pinatubo put into the air, according to NASA.


Figure 2. Reduced solar radiation due to volcanic aerosols as measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

Realclimate.org has a nice article that goes into the volcano-climate connection in greater detail. One interesting quote from the article: There can be some exceptions to the tropics-only rule, and at least one high latitude volcano appears to have had significant climate effects; Laki (Iceland, 1783-1784). The crucial factor was that the eruption was almost continuous for over 8 months which lead to significantly elevated sulphate concentrations for that whole time over much of the Atlantic and European regions, even though stratospheric concentrations were likely not particularly exceptional.

My next blog will talk about new research regarding the hurricanes/global warming connection.

Jeff Masters

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1190. moonlightcowboy
12:23 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
1178. HouseofGryffindor 12:20 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Bush's policy is flawed... When you cut taxes, you aren't supposed to increase spending. Bush has been the biggest spending President in history. Unfortunately, my generation and every generation for years to come will have to pay for it.



....another one that needs to study gov't, history. Deficit spending has gone on for a very long time! I'm certainly not taking up for Bush, but get the facts right!

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1188. Patrap
12:23 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Blogs will be down for maintenance for 10 Minutes or so ..at 12:30 CST.



May I power down Sir?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
1187. LakeShadow
5:15 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
the Kennedy curse...I wonder where it all began...

When I heard that he was hospitalized my first thought was liver failure...go figure! wow.

GSM...now the spiderpig song is in my head...it sticks all day long.(so thanks for that)..but now it has the voice of Mayor Quinby because I'm thinking of Sen. Kennedy...
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1186. smmcdavid
12:21 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Thanks...

Weather? Anyone?

Gas price, oil, bush.... blah blah blah
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1185. moonlightcowboy
12:19 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
LMAO, Simon! You've got a lot to learn about government! Higher taxes won't help the economy, but it will allow liberal democrats like Kennedy to pass out more entitlements and pork barrel projects! Geeeesh! That's Gov't 101!
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1183. Patrap
12:21 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
GOES-12 Latest Atlantic Basin WV Image, False Color Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
1182. 69Viking
5:20 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Ok, my venting on gas prices is over at least until a storm gets in the Gulf this year!
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1180. KrazyKaneLove
5:17 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
gotta go to a meeting..and Patrap, I am bringing my gas cans with me, don't think gas is going to get any cheaper this summer...thanks for your constant reminders to get prepped.
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1179. NEwxguy
5:19 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
jp,they ruled out a stroke shortly after the seizures,but they put him through a battery of tests,and they finally announced it today.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 886 Comments: 15947
1177. 69Viking
5:14 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Krazy I know, I'm just amazed at how long this country can see gas prices climb and nothing I mean nothing is being done by Bush to change it. Bush obviously has ties to the oil industry and benefits from their record profits.
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1175. NoNamePub
5:19 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
SMMMC

http://moe.met.fsu.edu/tcgengifs/
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1174. cchsweatherman
1:14 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Hey JP,
I know that I'm not Storm (far from his level actually), but I would like to respond to your question.

There is only one fact that we can take from the GFS model (since it has become so sketchy that it can't even pick a track and can't settle on a certain intensity). And that fact is that it shows that conditions will become quite favorable for tropical development to occur there. I'm not quite sold yet that there will be a tropical system in the Northwest Caribbean by late next week into next weekend, but it does have climatology to back it up. We will have to continue watching the model to see if it can gain any consistency on track and intensity and we will have to wait until at least Friday to see if we can get some concensus from the other models before we really should start giving great consideration.
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1173. Patrap
12:18 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
No Blobs,blips or errors.

7th inning stretch to come....................
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
1171. NoNamePub
5:17 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Afternoon All -

Anything going on with Panama blob or Afrincan blob!
: )
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1170. smmcdavid
12:17 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Hey jp, what's the website for the model runs? I've misplaced it. Thanks.
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1166. NEwxguy
5:16 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Gulf,
Tunnels sound great,just don't ask Massachusetts engineers to build them!!!
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 886 Comments: 15947
1165. Patrap
12:15 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Thats a good thing 69Viking,Im sure your very Hurricane savvy and Know how to Prepare.
Early action now prevents haste and worry down the Line.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
1164. IKE
12:15 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
That's awful.....malignant.

Hate to see anyone suffer medically.
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1160. Patrap
12:14 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Semper Paratus,Semper Fidelis...

Welcome back to Wally World StormW.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
1159. KrazyKaneLove
5:12 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
malignant tumor! wow wasn't expecting that..
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1158. moonlightcowboy
12:12 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Good grief, Simon! We DON'T need higher taxes of any kind! Period. We need to control the wasteful, fraudulent spending that's being done now! Higher taxes? LOL
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1157. 69Viking
5:06 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
#1135-Patrap

I've lived in the FL Panhandle long enough that every June 1st I fill up every gas can I have. When the season ends I have spare gas for the boat, car, truck, or lawn mower! We've alreayd started buying more canned goods than normal just as a start to preparations for this season. I've been through Ivan, Opal, Erin, and Dennis living here and that has taught me a lot about how to survive when the going gets tough after hurricanes.
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1156. IKE
12:14 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Doesn't bring it north JP.
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1154. smmcdavid
12:11 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Can we keep political opinions out of this blog? Not sure it does anyone any good.

Back to the weather please.
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1153. IKE
12:11 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Speaking of Hugo Chavez...gas in his controlled country...10 cents a gallon!
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1152. HIEXPRESS
1:06 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
1123 - That was beautiful. Concise.
1132 - That was uncalled for. Bye!
Action: | Ignore User
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1151. KrazyKaneLove
5:10 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Viking..I was being sarcastic about the oil companies. :)
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1149. moonlightcowboy
12:10 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Hey, StormW! Wasn't any fun watching this blog explode yesterday without a voice of reason here! lol, but I'm glad ya'll got to go up country and visit with relatives - a lil break before the malling begins!
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1148. surfmom
5:09 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Hurricane Dean's waves will be forever in my memory - they were the most beautiful waves I had ever surfed here --Wilma's being the scariest.

BBL
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1146. IKE
12:10 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Yup...on MSNBC and FOX now.
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1145. KarenRei
5:04 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
"Here's a positive, maybe the oil companies will reduce gas prices in the face of disaster:)"

Gas prices are high due to the weak dollar, rampant speculation, and tight supplies, not the oil companies deciding to take revenge on the populace.

While OPEC is a cartel, the independent supermajors and non-OPEC nationals are in fierce competition with each other. They can't just set prices that way. And anyways, with tight supplies, OPEC's power to set prices is greatly diminished.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 940
1144. KrazyKaneLove
5:06 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Kennedy has a brain tumor?
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1143. IKE
12:08 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Sen. Edward Kennedy has a brain tumor...
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1142. surfmom
5:06 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Along with his horrible destruction & taking of lives Hurricane Dean will be remembered by surfers as the best channel swell for SWFL/gomex surfers in decades
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1141. cchsweatherman
1:07 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
1134. caymanjaroo 1:06 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
cchweather man.... thanks that's waht I was looking for.... how about a link to that info.

See IKE's post 1119 for the link to the model.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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