Global Warming Slowed by Volcanoes

Klyuchevskaya Volcano. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Klyuchevskaya Volcano. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Global mean temperatures have been rising in recent years, consistent with every projection provided by Climate Change specialists and planetary ecologists. However, it now seems as though the rate of increase is not as bad as it should have been, thanks to a series of small-to-moderate-sized volcanic eruptions that have spewed sunlight-blocking particles high into the atmosphere.

Between 2000 and 2010, the average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide rose more from about 370 parts per million to nearly 390. According to Ryan Neely III, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, if that uptick were the only factor driving climate change, the average global temperature would have risen about 0.2°C. But a surge in the concentration of light-scattering particles in the stratosphere countered as much as 25% of that potential temperature increase.

Sanpedropable Volcano as seen from the ISS
San Pedro Volcano, as seen from the ISS

In addition, Neely and his colleagues ran a series of simulations that indicated that human the human contribution of aerosols to the stratosphere – which would have had a counteractive effect to the carbon – was minimal between 2000 and 2010. William Randel, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder claimed that the pattern of stratospheric particulate variations during the past decade “shows the fingerprint of volcanoes, with the right episodes showing up at the right time.”

For some time now, researchers and ecologists have known that sulfur dioxide, a major biproduct of volcanic eruptions, has a global cooling effect. Once introduced into the upper atmosphere, this particulate matter blocks out solar radiation and prevents it from being absorbed by the Earth’s soil, water, and plant life. In fact, it was a massive series of eruptions which took place during the Cretaceous–Paleogene Era that is believed to be linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

converted PNM fileFor many years, geoengineers have considered releasing sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere in order to slow down the process of Climate Change, a measure intended to give Earth’s scientists more time to develop alternative fuels and its people more time to get their act together. However, at this juncture it seems that the planet has obliged us and given us a bit of window, and completely unheeded.

It’s good to know that human agency alone does not determine the course this planet will take. At the same time however, one should not get too enthused and think this means we’re in for a big reprieve. Based on the most recent data, humanity still only has a few decades before the worst begins to happen and our world slowly becomes uninhabitable.



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