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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1390. TerraNova
6:42 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Anybody watching the new GFS?
Still at it...

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1389. ShenValleyFlyFish
6:33 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
1314. CaneAddict 5:09 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
If that disturbance in the SW Caribbean was to move northward and get a decent distance away from land, It could easily become a tropical depression, However that is not the situation so it won't happen
.

If a frog had wings it wouldn't bump it's a$$ every time it hopped. LOL
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1388. Drakoen
10:40 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1386. Patrap 10:40 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Im betting Taz Knows when 90L will form,where and If it will be a Threat.

If you look back at Last year and 06,,..he was right more than not.


Taz should be added to the model suites.
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1387. Weather456
6:36 PM AST on May 20, 2008

1378. pottery 10:33 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Hi.
1365 comments, in a day and a half ?
WOW guys, is it even going to be possible, to simply read all the entries, when a storm blows up ??


trust me..... half the post were unrelated to weather. Maybe when the season comes around....we would have alot of comments still but of weather discussions.
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1386. Patrap
5:38 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Im betting Taz Knows when 90L will form,where and If it will be a Threat.

If you look back at Last year and 06,,..he was right more than not.
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1385. Drakoen
10:38 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
The "e" isn't too far away from the "a" on the keyboard...
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1384. Patrap
5:37 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
Tazaroo is a fine Tropical Blogger.
And a good friend too.
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1383. Tazmanian
3:35 PM PDT on May 20, 2008
LOL pat
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1382. Weather456
6:32 PM AST on May 20, 2008
1369. Drakoen 6:29 PM AST on May 20, 2008

lol
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1381. pottery
6:33 PM AST on May 20, 2008
1373, LMAO, Pat.heheheh
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1380. Drakoen
10:34 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1378. pottery 10:33 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Hi.
1365 comments, in a day and a half ?
WOW guys, is it even going to be possible, to simply read all the entries, when a storm blows up ??

How about, you cannot post, unless you are within say, 500 miles of it when it happens
LOL


LOL the season is drawing near and the GFS is keeping people's interest for the most part.
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1378. pottery
6:29 PM AST on May 20, 2008
Hi.
1365 comments, in a day and a half ?
WOW guys, is it even going to be possible, to simply read all the entries, when a storm blows up ??

How about, you cannot post, unless you are within say, 500 miles of it when it happens
LOL
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1377. CaneAddict
10:29 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
I can say however, If this decrease continues up untill the official start of hurricane season, Then there may be something happening..However i'm sure within a week values will be on the increase again. As Terra said EVEN IF an El Nino developed, IT would be very weak and would have basically the same affect Neutral Conditions would have on the season. I am still predicting a La Nina to a Neutral season. JFV, Your welcome.
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1375. TerraNova
6:32 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
2004 had a mild El Nino and look what happened lol!

Yep; 2004 being a perfect example of an active, destructive El Nino year.
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1374. Drakoen
10:32 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1373. Patrap 10:32 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
We may have 90L vary soon


lol. Are you copying Taz?
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1373. Patrap
5:29 PM CDT on May 20, 2008
We may have 90L vary soon
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1372. Drakoen
10:30 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1370. TerraNova 10:29 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
ENSO model forecast:

From those models Drak, I'd think that next year has a far greater potential of being under El Nino conditions than this year...

The SOI doesn't have to decrease at a constant rate...in fact, it may jump right back up again. While a large negative "skip" may have occured, we're still in a La Nina, and the SOI does not necessarily have to decrease at a constant or larger rate every time.
I am not convinced that we will have an El Nino for this season; even in the unlikely event that we do have an El Nino this year, it will be a very weak warm anomaly and thus will not "destroy" hurricane activity as some have been saying it will.



2004 had a mild El Nino and look what happened lol!
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1371. TheWeatherMan504
10:24 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1349. SpaceThrilla1207 10:17 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Looks as if my low pre-season March predictions for this season may actually come true!

Hopefully we'll have a season like 1977, 1992 or 1997...where everything remains quiet and out to sea in the atlantic. That's the way it looks like it will be this season. Tranquil Tropics


It wasnt that tranquil, 1977 Hurricane Anita hit Mexico as a Cat.5, 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit Florida as a Cat.5 then Louisiana as a Cat.3, 1997 Hurricane Danny hit Louisiana and then Alabama.
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1370. TerraNova
6:28 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
ENSO model forecast:

From those models Drak, I'd think that next year has a far greater potential of being under El Nino conditions than this year...

The SOI doesn't have to decrease at a constant rate...in fact, it may jump right back up again. While a large negative "skip" may have occured, we're still in a La Nina, and the SOI does not necessarily have to decrease at a constant or larger rate every time.
I am not convinced that we will have an El Nino for this season; even in the unlikely event that we do have an El Nino this year, it will be a very weak warm anomaly and thus will not "destroy" hurricane activity as some have been saying it will.
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1369. Drakoen
10:28 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1366. Weather456 10:28 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1360. hurricane23 6:22 PM AST on May 20, 2008
June1 456 but we are almost 3 months form the meat of the season.

true...and i dont look forward to it....I havnt been directly affected by a hurricane in 10 years some say 9 and I dont plan on breaking it. A hurricane and a little island is like a sand castle meets the ocean wave.


Maybe you should invest in a boat lol...
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1367. Drakoen
10:28 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
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1366. Weather456
6:23 PM AST on May 20, 2008
1360. hurricane23 6:22 PM AST on May 20, 2008
June1 456 but we are almost 3 months form the meat of the season.


true...and i dont look forward to it....I havnt been directly affected by a hurricane in 10 years some say 9 and I dont plan on breaking it. A hurricane and a little island is like a sand castle meets the ocean wave.
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1364. CaneAddict
10:23 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Based on the models, The chances of an El Nino continue to look very slim, Even the models that forecast an El Nino, Dont predict it untill the end of the season.
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1362. CaneAddict
10:20 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Looking at the past month, There has been more increases with the SOI values then decreases, I am not convinced untill i see this persist, as with everything else that must persist ;-)
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1361. Drakoen
10:22 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
ENSO model forecast:
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1360. hurricane23
6:22 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
June1 but we are almost 3 months form the meat of the season.
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1357. TheWeatherMan504
10:20 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
cant put personal info on here but ill tell you that I did well in high school, i got a scholorship to University of Oklahoma where i took classes on meteorology, jounrnalism, and computer networking. I got a bacholors there in all of these. I went there and applied at the right time because someone retired at a higher position so the assistant producer got promoted and the spot was open so i got in quick so i help make maps for them such as 7 day temp. for example.
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1355. TerraNova
6:20 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Don't the models support a neutral season?
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1354. CaneAddict
10:18 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1349. SpaceThrilla1207 10:17 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Looks as if my low pre-season March predictions for this season may actually come true!

Hopefully we'll have a season like 1977, 1992 or 1997...where everything remains quiet and out to sea in the atlantic. That's the way it looks like it will be this season. Tranquil Tropics
Action: | Ignore User


Wow, Dont hype a decrease in SOI values to this extent. The season still in my opinion looks to be very active with the high setting up to place a huge threat to the U.S., If your familar with SOI values then you would know this happens quite often, Although this is a huge change, IT can climb back up just as fast.
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1353. Weather456
6:18 PM AST on May 20, 2008
El Nino or La Nina.....SOI or UFO...hurricane season begins in 11 days...lol :)
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1352. Drakoen
10:18 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
You make a very good point MichaelSTL, though I like model consensus with season ENSO forecast.
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1351. Weather456
6:12 PM AST on May 20, 2008
I am look to see the interaction of the westward moving tropical wave along 72/73W. Most likely it should be a bigger player in the Eastern Pacific.
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1350. hurricane23
6:16 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Could be why the CFS model continues to show pretty unfavorable conditions around parts of the western atlantic.
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1349. SpaceThrilla1207
10:16 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
Looks as if my low pre-season March predictions for this season may actually come true!

Hopefully we'll have a season like 1977, 1992 or 1997...where everything remains quiet and out to sea in the atlantic. That's the way it looks like it will be this season. Tranquil Tropics
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1348. Drakoen
10:16 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1345. StSimonsIslandGAGuy 10:14 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
I just wonder how much daily SOI readings mean since they changed so much in a week. Can the reading reverse back just as fast? or how long would it need to stay at such a negative reading to be meaningful and not a daily curiousity?


Yes it can change back just as fast. Look at these SOI tables: Link
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1344. hurricane23
6:12 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
These numbers are pretty extreme, if iam correct something similar to place in 1999 but not at this magnitude.

You can follow those SOI values HERE.
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1343. CaneAddict
10:09 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
As far as development of El Nino conditions, I am not to convinced, The SOI values have been up and down several times now, Yes this is the biggest drop but i am still not convinced, Also based on current conditions we are still technically under a La Nina, Conditions are not exactly pointing to Neutral just yet.
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1342. hurricane23
6:09 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
The question is will this trend continue?
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1341. Drakoen
10:11 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1340. hurricane23 10:09 PM GMT on May 20, 2008
1337. Drakoen 6:04 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Just because the SOI may become negative does not necessarily mean a rapid El Nino will develop.

No kidding...But that indeed was amazing.


Just making a statement, Adrian.
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1340. hurricane23
6:06 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
1337. Drakoen 6:04 PM EDT on May 20, 2008
Just because the SOI may become negative does not necessarily mean a rapid El Nino will develop.

No kidding...But that indeed was amazing.
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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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