Volcanic eruptions can have a significant impact on the Earth’s climate, but not all aspects of this impact have yet been studied. A recent study by Cambridge University has shown that the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions on the Earth’s surface temperature is underestimated in standard climate models.
The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, highlights the need for a more complete representation of volcanic eruptions in climate predictions. This can improve the reliability of these models and help predict future climate changes more accurately.
Volcanic eruptions and their role in the climate system
Volcanic eruptions are one of the most powerful natural phenomena on Earth. When they erupt, volcanoes release sulfuric gases into the atmosphere, which then form tiny aerosol particles. These particles can reflect sunlight back into space, which can cause the Earth’s surface temperature to cool.
Large eruptions, such as the Mount Pinatubo incident in 1991, spew such a huge volume of volcanic aerosols that they alone cause the global temperature to drop. However, such large eruptions are rare, occurring only a few times a century.
Small-scale eruptions occur much more frequently, every one or two years. They are not as spectacular as large-scale eruptions, but their cumulative impact on climate is just as significant. A study led by Cambridge University is studying small-scale volcanic eruptions, claiming that they account for nearly half of all sulfur dioxide gases released into the upper atmosphere.
The underestimated effect of volcanic eruptions
A recent study by Cambridge University found that the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions on Earth’s surface temperature is underestimated in standard climate models. As a result, climate predictions do not take into account the effects of small-scale eruptions.
Current climate projections, such as those outlined in the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are based on assumptions about past volcanic activity (from 1850 to 2014) and estimates of future activity (from 2015 to 2100). This approach largely overlooks the effects of small-scale eruptions.
To remedy this shortcoming, researchers have begun analyzing satellite data to get a more complete picture. Together with collaborators from the University of Exeter, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, Durham University and the UK Meteorological Office, the team created a thousand different scenarios for future volcanic activity, using data on the state of the Earth, ice cores and satellite records.
Underestimating the impact of small-scale volcanic eruptions on climate is a serious problem in predicting future climate change. A recent study by the University of Cambridge has shown the need for a more complete representation of volcanic eruptions in climate projections. This can help predict future climate change more accurately and improve the reliability of climate models.