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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1590. Drakoen
2:44 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1587. StormJunkie 2:44 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Mostly self explanatory to those of us that have some knowledge of what you were getting at.

That said, do you not agree that minor variations in the actual conditions as they occur could change what the model is showing?


Yes. But this system in particular appears very cold core and frontal-natured.
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1589. TheWeatherMan504
2:43 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1585. KEEPEROFTHEGATE 2:41 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
wm504
head on applied directly to your forehead


Ugggggghhhhhhh i hate that commercial it gives me a headache.

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1588. Patrap
9:41 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
They Blinded me With Science!!!

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1587. StormJunkie
2:42 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Mostly self explanatory to those of us that have some knowledge of what you were getting at.

That said, do you not agree that minor variations in the actual conditions as they occur could change what the model is showing?
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1586. StormJunkie
2:38 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
No hell no KOTG. I am always open for good debate that includes information. That said, the feature does move back to the E some per the model which is exactly the type of thing you said you did not see in post 1560. You over exaggerated the no E component a little bit, and I responded with a model run of a building high.

Again y'all, I enjoy these frontal systems as there always seems to be one every year that does something that was not expected. Is this it? I doubt it, but still an interesting feature.
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1585. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:39 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
wm504
head on applied directly to your forehead
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1584. Drakoen
2:39 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1579. StormJunkie 2:38 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1572.

You know me Drak, always learning and need some repeating some times! So what point are you making with that graphic?


Its kind of self-explanatory (lol) but I am showing the different kinds of lows and how to differentiate them when looking at a model.
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1582. TheWeatherMan504
2:36 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
the reason the ITCZ is far south is because it is may it isnt even Hurricane Season.It will move north in the coming months.
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1581. cchsweatherman
10:35 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
To answer your question StormChaser, the ITCZ remains further north than average over Africa, but further south than average across the entire Atlantic. But, that will change over the next two weeks as disturbances over Africa are developing further north, causing the ITCZ to rise in the Atlantic.

Good night everyone. Look forward to the models tomorrow Drak and StormJunkie as I will spend more time analyzing the possible East Coast storm tomorrow morning.
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1580. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:36 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
11 n is the magic num cchs
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1579. StormJunkie
2:35 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1572.

You know me Drak, always learning and need some repeating some times! So what point are you making with that graphic?

I understand what the model is showing now, and I do not expect much out of the E Coast low, but I also know models are far from perfect that far out. Slight variations could make some difference in whatever this feature turns in to right?
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1578. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:29 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
k8ecane was i talking to you
sj iam not sayin any thing about models used for guidance only current observations go a long way your not one of its my way or highway guys are ya
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1577. pottery
10:33 PM AST on May 20, 2008
cchs @ 1573. Good point too.
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1576. pottery
10:28 PM AST on May 20, 2008
Hi Keeper.
Yeah, some interesting weather going on around the ITCZ now.
I have only been looking at loops and images for 2 yrs, so I dont know the norms. But looking at how this is setting up, is fascinating to me.
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1575. Drakoen
2:31 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Cch, I see nothing at your coordinates. The only twisting I see is moving on shore which matches up with the 850mb vorticity product.
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1574. Stormchaser2007
10:31 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
CCH is the ITCZ more south than usual this year??
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1573. cchsweatherman
10:28 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Based upon the latest imagery over Africa, we may see the ITCZ jump above 10N tomorrow as there is a long line with moderate to strong convection moving across West Africa, all at or north of 10N.

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1572. Drakoen
2:28 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Photobucket
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1571. StormJunkie
2:27 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Night K8, keep your head down depending on where you are. Looks like we may have another round of weather headed in to the LC.
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1570. cchsweatherman
10:26 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Drak and Storm Junkie,
I know that you don't think much about this feature, but I just want verification that there is a low-level circulation at the coordinates I posted since you both seem to have very keen eyes. I'm not expecting any development, but would just like to watch this feature just in case.
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1569. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:16 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
i notice pottery how that ne sa area sw of trinny is void of convection strange
also dry air east of windward and trinny seems to be pushing down on the itcz from your area east to east cen atlantic
with a push n on both ends of the itcz over east atlantic to east africa and nw sa nw sw carb and yuc
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1568. Stormchaser2007
10:26 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
`
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1567. StormJunkie
2:24 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Not wasting my time K8, I am still learning, so it can not be a waste of time. Not to mention it is good practice for refreshing the tracking hand after the off season :~)

Not to mention, I kind of like debate, and at least now there are some folks debating it with me, instead of me just jabbering to me! ☺
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1565. K8eCane
2:24 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
SJ wink wink
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1563. StormJunkie
2:16 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
KOTG- First I think it is just too far out to state that as fact. Second, we may not even have anything there. Third, and what I am basing my "things could change slightly" theory on is what the GFS is forecasting the high to do over the next week. It goes from 1020 to 1030, and it starts to build E late in the forecast period. Depending on the speed at which it builds will ultimately decide if this thing grazes the OBX, NY, or NE area.

See for yourself...Watch the high. Not the low feature.
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1562. Stormchaser2007
10:16 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
No,no,no Im so sorry cch If you misinterpreted me, I was simply stating (in general) that FLweather freaks comment shouldn't be taken as wish-casting a storm on Florida that is was just simply wishing for rain.
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1561. StormJunkie
2:14 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
cchs, just my take on things and what I have learned by trying to watch features from too far out, we need to wait until we have an actual feature start to form down there, and right now the GFS is looking at the 168hr time frame for that.

I think what you are looking at may just be part of the normal Panama low.
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1560. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:10 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
thats where its going too sj out to sea big low over ont can backdooring pushing everything se an e until it stops movin west and goes east no change pattern stays the same
out to sea it goes
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1559. cchsweatherman
10:14 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
I hope you weren't referring that comment to me StormChaser since there was no wishcasting at all in my post; just a simple observation.
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1558. Drakoen
2:14 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
cch, I don't think much of the Caribbean system.
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1557. pottery
10:05 PM AST on May 20, 2008
Greetings all.
Some good ITCZ activity going on now. Heavy showers at 50w, and a large area around.
Complex upper level and mid level winds along the ITCZ and north of that. Wind directions too numerous to mention., but generally bringing in dry air from north and west, and blowing cloud tops back to the northeast. Wind direction over the ITCZ is tending easterly now, for the first time.
It all looks to be setting up the way it should be, minus the Dust.
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1556. StormJunkie
2:10 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
True Drak, but it only takes a slight stronger high to put it back on the OBX, but again, that is not really what I am talking about. Also back to minor inaccuracies in models at that time frame.

Just saying I think this is the closest thing to a tropical system we will see in the next 168 hrs. Then the Panama area could be starting to take a life of it's own and that will likely be our next area to watch, but 168 is still a long long way off imho, and I need a couple grains to go with something that far out.
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1555. Patrap
9:13 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
ISS Pass , groundtrack.
Houston to New York
Beginning at 9:16 CDT Link
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1554. Floodman
2:07 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1546. FLWeatherFreak91

No much chance...this mess is moving WNW and will like as not end up in the EPAC.
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1553. Stormchaser2007
10:07 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
.
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1552. cchsweatherman
10:09 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Drak and StormJunkie,
Could you offer your opinion on my observations regarding the Southwest Caribbean feature? Would love to hear your input. Thanks.
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1551. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:06 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
be careful what you wish for it just may come true
more than what you bargin for
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1550. Drakoen
2:08 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1547. StormJunkie 2:07 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
True Drak, and that is why I posted the phase. That said, it moves closer and closer to warm core the further out in time it goes, and it is at least possible that the model could be slightly inaccurate this far out :~)

Just saying it will be an interesting feature to watch that has at least a slight chance of gaining some tropical characteristics.


The GFS takes it out to sea with high pressure ridging to the east.
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1549. weatherboykris
2:08 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
Hey guys. I find the GFS long range forecasts interesting, although unlikely to come exactly true. Some tunes for you all...

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1548. StormJunkie
2:07 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
And just to be clear Drak, I never said it was cut off, just saying it is trying to cut off.
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1547. StormJunkie
2:05 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
True Drak, and that is why I posted the phase. That said, it moves closer and closer to warm core the further out in time it goes, and it is at least possible that the model could be slightly inaccurate this far out :~)

Just saying it will be an interesting feature to watch that has at least a slight chance of gaining some tropical characteristics.
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1546. FLWeatherFreak91
10:04 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
1541. JFV 10:02 PM EDT on May 20, 2008 Hide this comment.
Good observation Weatherman! Could this potentially be what the CMC and some of the other models have been hinting at during the last several days?


yes, it could be, but we have to continue watching it to see if it heads north. If it does, then yes, we should watch it and hope it turns into a gint system to provide Florida with some rain and meteorological excitement- It hasn't rained in so long!
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1545. Stormchaser2007
10:05 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
The Gulf Current has warmed up allot the passed few days.
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1544. StormJunkie
2:04 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
atmo, it can take a while to get the information out when folks are trying to figure out what the hell just happened to them.
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1543. Drakoen
2:01 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
1518. StormJunkie 1:38 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
atmo, I was talking due to verification. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Let me try this again...144hrs cutoff low trying to form...

Its not cut-off looks more like a baroclinic low. The low is embedded within a 500mb longwave trough and you can see the trailing frontal boundary attached to the area of low pressure. The wind vectors also support the Cool air advection behind the low and the warm air advection ahead of the pre-frontal trough
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1542. StormJunkie
1:58 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
That is what I was thinking KOTG.

Hades, You bring up a good point about the phase never showing it making warm core. TN mentioned that earlier.



But the phase also ends before the system is done and there is at least some chance that changes over the next few days depending on what type of feature develops and where. Also how long it manages to get over the Stream.
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1540. atmoaggie
1:54 AM GMT on May 21, 2008
so I don't see how a current count of 2 tornadoes could be accurate.

True. I have also seen instances where spc took hours to post nado reports. I do not mean that the forensic crew added them, but that public reports took hours to get posted.
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About JeffMasters

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