//
you're reading...

Volcanoes

Volcanoes and Climate: A Not-So-Explosive Relationship

Reviewing: Dee, Sylvia G., et al. “No consistent ENSO response to volcanic forcing over the last millennium.” Science 367.6485 (2020): 1477-1481.

Introduction

When you hear the term El Nino, you may recall that it has something to do with rainfall in the Southwest or droughts in Australia but did you know that the El Nino is actually one phase of a climate pattern called ENSO that affects more than 60 million people globally.

Rainfall changes in the winter (top) and summer (bottom) during an El Nino (Image credit: NOAA)

Despite its importance, scientists still debate the factors that contribute to an El Nino and cannot accurately forecast them in the future. In recent years, the climate science community has discussed that perhaps El Ninos are more likely to occur after volcanic eruptions in the tropics (which we’ll call here the ENSO-Volcano hypothesis). To understand this hypothesis and how the authors Dee et al., investigated this theory, let’s first look back at the 1991 tropical volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo as a study case.

Eruption of Mt. Pinatubo

In June of 1991, Mt. Pinatubo of the Philippines’ Luzon Volcanic Arc erupted and would go down as one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. This massive eruption not only devastated local environments, but also affected the entire global climate when it ejected millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere.

Photograph taken during Mt. Pinatubo eruption (Image credit: USGS)

When it erupted, Mt. Pinatubo released fine dust and aerosols that were carried over 30,000 feet into the Earth’s stratosphere. The particles hung around for months, reducing the amount of sunlight that reached the Earth’s surface and causing global average temperatures to decrease by 0.4 degrees Celsius. Half a degree doesn’t sound like much to us but this kind of drop on a global scale had profound impacts on agriculture, ecosystems, and weather across the Earth.

Volcanic aerosols rising into the stratosphere and blocking sunlight (Image credit: NASA)

Can volcanic aerosols trigger El Ninos?

In its usual state, the tropical Pacific has a strong east-west temperature gradient that is maintained by surface winds that blow east to west called “trade winds”. Every three to seven years, an “El Nino” event occurs where the trade winds weaken for reasons that are still unclear and the east-west temperature gradient is lessened.

Normal vs El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean (Image credit: NOAA)

This shifts the “warm pool” of water from the Eastern Pacific to the Central Pacific, which really disrupts weather and temperature globally.

According to the ENSO-Volcano hypothesis, the volcanic aerosols from an eruption cool the tropical Pacific and this cooling leads to the weakening of the trade winds and a swing to El Nino state. This seems like a reasonable idea but to really confirm its validity we need to test it. Scientists unfortunately don’t have miniature Earths to run experiments on, so the next best thing is to look at the historical record. This was exactly what Dee and coauthors did- they generated a thousand-year record of El Nino variability and compared it to the record of tropical eruptions to see if there was a relationship.

Corals are nature’s logbook

To extend our record in the past beyond when humans started recording ocean temperatures, climatologists use natural archives such as corals. Dee and others sampled fossil corals from the Central Pacific island of Palmyra. By measuring the oxygen isotope ratios of the coral skeletons, the authors were able to reconstruct a continuous record of sea surface temperature that extends back 1000 years

Scientists drilling into a fossilized coral on Palmyra Island (Image Credit: Cobb Lab at Georgia Tech)

Recall that during an El Nino, the warm surface waters shift their location from the East to the Central Pacific. Because Palmyra is right in the Central Pacific, an El Nino event should raise water temperatures here, which would be recorded in the corals. Now we have a record of El Nino years that is 1000 years long!

Results

Dee and others now compared the ENSO coral record with an ice core archive of tropical volcanic eruptions in the last 1000 years to see if there was a strong relationship between the two.

Surprisingly, while there are several instances where an El Nino follows a volcanic eruption, there are almost just as many El Nino that occurred during no volcanic eruption years. Dee and others therefore conclude that their results do not support a strong relationship between volcanic eruptions and ENSO. To further support their conclusion, they show that even after the eruption of 1258, which was the largest in last millennium, it still wasn’t a strong El Nino year.

Implications for Climate Models

While the results of the researchers’ study are interesting on their own, it’s even more intriguing when you compare them with current climate models. Climate models give a wide range of responses but in many of them, there is a consistent shift to El Nino after a volcanic eruption in the tropics. This means that several of these climate models may be overly sensitive to volcanic aerosols, in that they predict the aerosols play a larger role in affecting tropical winds than they do in reality.

In their concluding remarks, Dee and others suggest that their work highlights the need for more accurate characterizations of the physics of atmospheric dust in climate models. This is especially true for us living in a climate that is continually evolving with an uncertain future.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 4 days ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you seen a remote working setup like this? This is a photo from one of our Oceanbites team members Anne Hartwell. “A view from inside the control can of an underwater robot we used to explore the deep parts
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com