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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640. hahaguy
4:55 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
be prepared for 1000 in a day as soon as it hits june 1 lol.
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639. atmoaggie
8:50 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
My friend in Punta Gorda lost several windows due to flying debris, part of their roof and their pool cage. The house was trashed but they were able to repair it. They were lucky because down the street there were several homes that were destroyed. He said they went through the eye which didn't last too long. He's on Punta Gorda Isles if you are familiar with that area

What if all of your family going back a number of generations all lived within an impacted area and in a single family you lost 10 homes, for example, to a single storm? That will never happen in south FL. NOLA? Has, does, and will again. Different when the great grandparents through the great grandkids are born in the same hospital.
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638. TampaSpin
4:54 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
Wow 635 blog entries in 1 day....and the season has not started.
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637. cchsweatherman
4:52 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
Could you ellaborate on your thoughts on this disturbance 456? Thanks.
Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5167
636. StormStalker85
8:53 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
635. HouseofGryffindor

Good talking to you HoG. Have a good night.
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634. Weather456
4:50 PM AST on May 19, 2008
605. cchsweatherman 4:36 PM AST on May 19, 2008
Based upon the latest satellite imagery, I have to admit that GulfScotsman was correct in his forecast and analysis on the Panama disturbance. The convection has significantly weakened and the surface low has moved into northern Panama and southern Costa Rica. It seems the convection has been moving WNW while the surface low has continued racing westward. No chance for tropical development in the Caribbean anymore, but there could be a chance for tropical development in the Eastern Pacific.


LINK
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633. hahaguy
4:49 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
our first real shower here in a month us up here in port st lucie. oh and what do you know it the rain stopped after 10 mins :(
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632. StormStalker85
8:48 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
624. HouseofGryffindor

Very familiar. Used to live off of Aqui Esta and continue to do a lot of work in the Isles.
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631. TampaSpin
4:40 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
I think the BOC may become a player later pressure north of the convection is down 1mb compared to yesterday and appears to keep falling a bit faster. May not be anything.

Conditions at 42055 as of
(2:50 pm CDT)

Wind Direction (WDIR): E ( 90 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 2.0 m/s
Wind Gust (GST): 3.0 m/s
Wave Height (WVHT): 0.5 m
Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 5 sec
Average Period (APD): 3.8 sec
Mean Wave Direction (MWD): NE ( 37 deg true )
Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 1011.8 mb
Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -1.6 mb ( Falling )
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630. Floodman
8:44 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
607. KarenRei 8:37 PM GMT on May 19, 2008

Wow, Karen, nice work!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
628. Drakoen
8:48 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
623. hahaguy 8:47 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
finally we are getting rain.


Its drizzled here for like 2 minutes and then stopped.
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627. Patrap
3:48 PM CDT on May 19, 2008
Proclamation from the Gov of New York on Hurricanes. Link

NWS on Hurricane Preparedness Week Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127702
626. StormStalker85
8:44 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
618. HouseofGryffindor

I was only 7 when Andrew hit. I wasn't anywhere near Homestead (still in Punta Gorda) and it terrified me. Mostly it was the images on tv that really got me. Since then tropical systems have always held my interest, then when Charley hit, I went into overdrive. Now I like learning about all the things that causes the formation, intensification, and tracks that these storms take.
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625. IKE
3:44 PM CDT on May 19, 2008
603. MichaelSTL 3:36 PM CDT on May 19, 2008
Did anybody see this yet? Says tropical cyclogenesis is possible in the Caribbean by the end of the month.


Interesting....thanks.
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623. hahaguy
4:46 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
finally we are getting rain.
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622. hurricane23
4:46 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
Noaa's outlook will be out next week along with the all important hurricane preparedness week starting this upcoming sunday the 25th.
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621. Orcasystems
8:44 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
607. KarenRei 8:37 PM GMT on May 19, 2008

Oh, wait -- we're supposed to be talking about politics; my bad. Ok, here goes: I think Barack Obama isn't going to be tough enough on hurricanes. I think John McCain will bring the fight too the hurricanes. Oh, sure, we may spend the next hundred years battling hurricanes, but it's better that we fight them over the Bahamas than fight them in Miami. Obama will probably try to meet with their eyewall and negotiate a reduced wind field and milder storm surge. Hurricane appeaser!

(Was that sufficient? :)


ROFLMAO, that has to be the best one I have seen today.
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620. Drakoen
8:42 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
614. StormHype 8:41 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Drak said...
It is the thought that the GFS is even showing anything after 5-6 months of inactivity is whats most interesting if anything at all.


I wondering if these models have hard dates in their logic where they allow tropical lows to form only between certain dates. For simple instance:

If (Date >= May 15th)
allow_TS = TRUE
Else
allow_TS = FALSE

Obviously, an over-simplied example, but you get my point.

Anyone know if there are date triggers in these models that make them shift to some other algorithm for that time of year?



LOL no. Its just the conditions outside of the season are so unfavorable. Upper level troughs bringing high vertical wind shear. The fronts that come down with the continental dry air and the cooling of the SST's.
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619. StormStalker85
8:42 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
602. TampaSpin

Oh geez...they did worse than we did. Our family members had significant damage only one family member lost the entire house. We all count our blessings that it could have been much worse.
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617. Patrap
3:38 PM CDT on May 19, 2008
I beg to differ there ol KarenRei...


Although the Calvary was late.

From my perspective..

..well.."Uncommon Valor was a common virtue" ,..to quote from a WW-2 line.

Cept twas the common Man doing the deeds needed.

Americans helping Americans.
Nothing less.

I believe it was one the Finer Hours in U.S. History.


I didnt catch much CNN on it at the time.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127702
615. hurricane23
4:40 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
I lived right of 312 and US 1 when andrew came through but i now live about 5 minutes from the NHC.

Felt those 150-160mph winds.
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614. StormHype
8:28 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Drak said...
It is the thought that the GFS is even showing anything after 5-6 months of inactivity is whats most interesting if anything at all.


I'm wondering if these models have hard dates in their logic where they allow tropical lows to form only between certain dates. For simple instance:

If (Date >= May 15th)
allow_TS = TRUE
Else
allow_TS = FALSE

Obviously, an over-simplied example, but you get my point.

Anyone know if there are date triggers in these models that make them shift to some other algorithm for that time of year?
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613. hurricane23
4:38 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
I think the GFS all in all is probably on to something with caribbean development.Its actually pretty normal to see some TC formation this time of the year down there.
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612. KarenRei
8:37 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
cchsweatherman: What low? I never saw any cyclonic turning or any circulation on the Quikscat. Plus, the dry air is moving out of the Carribean. So long as there's convection over low-shear warm-water, it needs to be watched.

Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 937
611. StormStalker85
8:37 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
604. HouseofGryffindor

I was here during Charley and yes indeed it was a mess. We were so fortunate that it moved on very quickly and did not bring the surge. I find it interesting that there are many of us on this blog that are tied to similar experiences and locations. I noticed you said earlier your were in Homestead during Andrew?
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610. Drakoen
8:37 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
603. MichaelSTL 8:36 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Did anybody see this yet? Says tropical cyclogenesis is possible in the Caribbean by the end of the month.


Not surprised and they even have the confidence at moderate. With the strong MJO cycle and favorable upper level winds. Along with model support.
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609. TheCaneWhisperer
8:36 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
They seem rather confident of something developing down there STL.
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608. tornadofan
8:37 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Nice catch STL!
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607. KarenRei
8:33 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Pearlandaggie: There have been a lot of peer-reviewed studies on the subject, and one thing is abundantly clear: we really don't know how global warming is going to affect hurricanes. We're quite sure it'll increase SSTs. We're pretty sure it'll increase shear, too. The exact combination of those who is a subject of intense debate within the scientific community (this is reflected within the IPCC reports, BTW).

Oh, wait -- we're supposed to be talking about politics; my bad. Ok, here goes: I think Barack Obama isn't going to be tough enough on hurricanes. I think John McCain will bring the fight too the hurricanes. Oh, sure, we may spend the next hundred years battling hurricanes, but it's better that we fight them over the Bahamas than fight them in Miami. Obama will probably try to meet with their eyewall and negotiate a reduced wind field and milder storm surge. Hurricane appeaser!

(Was that sufficient? :) )
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 937
606. CaneAddict
8:25 PM GMT on May 19, 2008

574. hurricane23 8:19 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Here's a pretty good loop showing this disturbed area of thunderstorms down in the SW caribbean.


Conditions look to be favorable in that area....Although development is not likely much....That area does not yet have an assoicated low-pressure area yet does it?
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605. cchsweatherman
4:27 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
Based upon the latest satellite imagery, I have to admit that GulfScotsman was correct in his forecast and analysis on the Panama disturbance. The convection has significantly weakened and the surface low has moved into northern Panama and southern Costa Rica. It seems the convection has been moving WNW while the surface low has continued racing westward. No chance for tropical development in the Caribbean anymore, but there could be a chance for tropical development in the Eastern Pacific.
Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5167
602. TampaSpin
4:33 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
600. StormStalker85 4:32 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
585. HouseofGryffindor
HoG...did you see the area after Charley came through?


Storm i did my wifes complete family lives in Charlotte county. Her family lost 3 of 6 homes. Really bad.
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601. pearlandaggie
8:22 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
600. StormStalker85
8:31 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
585. HouseofGryffindor
HoG...did you see the area after Charley came through?
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599. Drakoen
8:29 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Those videos bring back a lot of memories. I was watching the Weather Channel for the most part in 2004 with Jeane and Frances.
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598. Floodman
8:17 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Well, folks, if this season mirrors 2004, it will be end of July before we see any significant (named) storms...Charley didn't landfall until August 13th
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
597. hurricane23
4:30 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
Hurricane Wilma right before moving into florida with steve lyons.

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596. KarenRei
8:25 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Patrap: Whenever I see pictures of a flooded New Orleans, and remember how bungled the rescue operations were, all I can think of is a quote from Grover Norquiest:

"My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

The bathtub was a bit bigger than I would have envisioned :(
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 937
595. Patrap
3:28 PM CDT on May 19, 2008
No turn Dean from 2007 Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127702
594. Weather456
4:23 PM AST on May 19, 2008
577. KarenRei 4:19 PM AST on May 19, 2008
Weather456: Impressive convection on that blob, no? A little shear has dipped into it from the south, thankfully, but not much.


development or not....it means some showers and thunderstorms for our frends down in Lower Central America
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593. NEwxguy
8:16 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Gulf,

That sounded like one of the recent presidential debates.
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592. hurricane23
4:27 PM EDT on May 19, 2008
What a year 2004 for was....



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591. Drakoen
8:27 PM GMT on May 19, 2008
Wilma was a fun one and Jeane too with her loop...
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590. Patrap
3:24 PM CDT on May 19, 2008
Wilma..

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127702

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.