In January 2022, the world witnessed one of the most colossal volcanic eruptions in history – the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Haapai volcano. This underwater explosion was equivalent to 100 Hiroshima bombs in terms of force and released millions of tons of water vapor into the atmosphere. While some have speculated that this eruption is the cause of the scorching summer temperatures, scientists are quick to refute this claim, writes Livescience
Gloria Manni, a senior scientist at NorthWest Research Associates and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and Louis Millan, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, argue that the volcano is not to blame for climate change. They explain that while the volcanic eruption may have temporarily affected some regions, the primary cause of climate change is human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.
It should be noted that powerful volcanic eruptions usually result in lower temperatures due to the release of sulfur dioxide, which forms sulfate aerosols that reflect sunlight back into space and temporarily cool the Earth’s surface. However, the Tonga eruption had an additional impact because it occurred underwater.
Manny and Millan emphasize that the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Hapai eruption is unique in that it not only caused a significant release of water vapor into the stratosphere, but also resulted in a significant increase in stratospheric aerosol. Water vapor is a natural greenhouse gas that absorbs solar radiation and traps heat in the atmosphere. Although aerosols and water vapor have opposite effects on the climate system, research suggests that a larger and more persistent plume of water vapor from an eruption can have a temporary net surface warming effect.
According to the study, published in Nature Climate Change, the eruption increased stratospheric water vapor content by 10-15%, the largest increase on record. Using a model, the researchers calculated that this water vapor could potentially increase the average global temperature by 0.063 degrees Fahrenheit (0.035 degrees Celsius). However, it is important to note that these results do not mean that the volcano is the main culprit behind the current extreme weather conditions.
Stuart Jenkins, a climatologist and postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, emphasizes that the volcano’s influence on this year’s extreme weather conditions is minimal. While some commentators have linked the eruption to warming based on these studies, it is important to realize that the scientific consensus firmly attributes climate change to human activity, not natural phenomena.
In conclusion, while the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Hapai volcano was a stunning event, it is not the cause of the climate change we are seeing. Scientists agree that human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, is the primary cause of this global phenomenon. It is crucial for us to recognize our role in climate change in order to mitigate its effects and preserve our planet for future generations.