Thanks to Nature, a Large Atmospheric Sulfur Dioxide Experiment is Now Underway in the Pacific

Last June, WIRED magazine wrote an in depth article that asked:

Can a Million Tons of Sulfur Dioxide Combat Climate Change?

The question arose from research from research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, by Lowell Wood, a protégé of the brilliant and controversial hydrogen bomb inventor Edward Teller. The idea was simple:  Inject sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to reflect a portion of the sun’s rays back into space, thus cooling the planet. It also seemed to be within the realm of possibility to some.

Here is how it works:

Graphic and text below adapted from Wired magazine article

1. Make sulfur dioxide
A million tons of sulfur dioxide would be needed to begin the cooling process. Luckily SO2, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants, is a common industrial chemical.

2. Inject it into the stratosphere
Load the sulfur dioxide into aircraft — converted 747s, military fighters, or even large balloons — and carry it up to the stratosphere. This will cost about $1 billion a year.

3. Wait for the chemical reaction
In a series of reactions, sulfur dioxide combines with other molecules in the atmosphere, ultimately forming sulfuric acid. This H2SO4 binds to water to form aerosol droplets that absorb and reflect back into space 1 to 3 percent of the sun’s rays. (The particles also contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, but scientists are researching alternate chemicals.)

4. Let the planet cool
Results will be quick, especially over the Arctic.

And just a few days ago, over a million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) was in fact injected into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, here is a satellite sounder derived image of the cloud that has been released:

Source: AVO

The Terra/MODIS satellite snapped a nice image of the release, notice the obvious brown trail as the plume becomes airborne over the Pacific ocean:

Source: NASA

Here is a photo of where the experiment took place:

The Kasatochi volcano as seen from space, and location map below:

Thanks to a posting on another wordpress blog called “eruptions” we have this insight from Dr. Simon Carn from the University of Maryland in Baltimore:

The August 7-8 eruption of Kasatochi volcano (Aleutian Islands)produced a very large stratospheric SO2 cloud – possibly the largest since the August 1991 eruption of Hudson (Chile). Preliminary SO2 mass calculations using Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) data suggest a total SO2 burden of ~1.5 Tg. This figure will be revised in the coming weeks but is more likely to go up than down. The SO2 cloud has drifted over a large area of North America and is now (August 14) reaching Europe.

With the released SO2 at ~ 1.5 Tg (Teragrams, a unit of mass approximately equal to one megaton) this is actually 50% more than mass in the experiment proposed by Wood and Teller.

For those wishing to follow the plume, NOAA offers a website that tracks SO2 in the atmosphere here. You can also keep tabs on the eruption and plume at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

With this eruption coming on the heels of a short term global cooling trend that we’ve seen in the last 18 months, it will be interesting to see if this real-world experiment being performed by nature will add to the trend we’ve already seen.

Click for a larger image
Reference: UAH lower troposphere data

This type of “experiment” has already been seen before in recent times, as the Wired article mentions:

Pinatubo’s eruption didn’t just unleash huge mud slides and lava flows; it also fired an ash stream 22 miles into the air, injecting 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Over the following months, a massive haze gradually dispersed across the globe. Meanwhile, the sulfur dioxide component underwent chemical reactions to form a particulate known as sulfate aerosol (in essence, droplets of water and sulfuric acid), which absorbs sunlight and reflects some of it back into space.

The climatic effect of this volcanic eruption was rapid, dramatic, and planetary in scale. In a year, the global average temperature declined by half a degree Celsius, and researchers observed less summer melt atop the Greenland ice sheet.

An interesting passage in the article on SO2 injection suggests:

Until large-scale experiments are funded, the only way to explore the potential consequences is through computer simulations. By turning down the virtual sun or cranking up the digital carbon, we can create any planetary future we want.

It looks like nature has stepped up and eliminated that need for computer simulation.

Based on Carn’s estimate, when the data is all in on Kasatochi, it will likely be about 10 times less than Pinatubo in total mass of SO2 ejected. But we’ll watch, measure, and see what this smaller event does for our global climate. Unfortunately, most any global cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it is, will probably be labeled as “volcanically induced” due to this event.

h/t to Philip_B for comments that lead to this article’s creation

UPDATE: 8/19/08 10:20 AM PST There has some been some questions in comments as to whether or not the plume reached stratospheric levels. This press release from USGS notes that the plume has reached more than 35,000 feet altitude, which would put the plume into the lower stratosphere.


107 thoughts on “Thanks to Nature, a Large Atmospheric Sulfur Dioxide Experiment is Now Underway in the Pacific

  1. This is the kind of thing I’ve been afraid of for some time. They go and do something radical, like this, or the iron in the oceans, and cause the already falling temps worldwide to crash further.

  2. This must be emphasized to AGW-crazed politicians. If you want to cool the Earth, just reduce sunlight. 1993 is the coldest year on record for Nebraska, thanks quite a bit to Pinatubo ash. This will, of course, have more immediate and meaningful effects than cutting CO2 emissions. They should dump all of it in the stratosphere over the Arctic if everyone is so freaked out about the sea ice. The benefits are, of course, nil. Colder is worse than warmer, but we may have no choice but to push this as much as possible. Of course, the watermelons will hate it because it encourages an end to sacrifice.

  3. Perhaps this eases the pressure on GISS to prop the temperature data up for August?

    REPLY: No, but it does mean that most any cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it, will be labeled automatically as “volcanic induced”. – Anthony

  4. Anyone remember the shrieking over acid rain? How is this different/better?

    “Acid rain is a serious environmental problem that affects large parts of the United States and Canada. Acid rain is particularly damaging to lakes, streams, and forests and the plants and animals that live in these ecosystems.”

    Does this latest “solution” mean the measures to decrease SO2 emissions were a “bad thing” and a waste of time and money? Why scrub the coal emissions? Why low sulfur diesel?

    Next you’ll tell me CO2 is actually good for the environment……….

  5. Pingback: STAY WARM, WORLD… Roger Carr « Stay Warm, World…

  6. This was presented in a conference several years ago on technologies that dealt with CO2 issues. I remember Lowell Wood was received rather poorly by many environmentalists in the audience. Yet if there were truly a run-away warming event, this is the solution you would want. Not that I believe there will be a run-away warming event…

  7. “The Arrogance of Humanism” by David Ehrenfeld should be required reading by all scientists, students, and politicians; regardless of “chosen side”.
    I need a beer.

  8. deadwood (22:48:40) I’ll drink to that!!!

    I’m not a Climate Scientist, but I have spent the last 7 years researching this subject and until some intelligent & honest, scientific experts in this world can reach some sort of an agreement on the “REAL” effects/problems of man’s quantified impact on the World Climate (HOT or Cold), let’s cease this foolishness and see where Nature is taking us. If we find Nature is again taking us into another long term HOT or COLD phase as it has in the past, we will then be required to find a solution or go the way of the Unicorn! Right now it is obvious we cannot predict the weather for the next 15 days with an acceptable degree or accuracy. IMHO!!

  9. deadwood (22:48:40) — you expressed my thoughts, though I was going for presumptive arrogance.

    As I read the WIRED article, I was astounded by the assumptions that are being taken for granted — that the warming that is happening is a result of mankind’s influence and that such a change is bad. They need to go back to science and dismiss the political notion of mankind changing the climate. Start with a clean slate. What are the natural forces that have warmed the climate and how long will the warming continue before the inevitable cooling kicks in?

    Even in the WIRED article it is acknowledged that there are too many unknown variables. But it seems government bred scientists are really good at what they do best — creating theoretical problems with theoretical solutions that have no basis in reality other than to create a crying need for funding with which to conduct experimentation. {The article did say, Until large-scale experiments are funded…}

    As for any long-term effect on climate, isn’t that more likely to come from a low latitude volcano such as Pinatubo, than from a high latitude volcano? Though this might have a limited short-term effect on NH temperatures. It should also be noted that the climate seems to have been cooling for about a year and a half already, so any effect would merely be added onto an already existing trend.

  10. Could you edit this article to clearly point out, at the beginning, that the “experiment” is not man made, but simply man observing the impact of an eruption?

    The first poster made this mistake, and from the headline and article structure one could easily skim the article and not realize this. I’m sure you didn’t do it on purpose, but this kind of mistake can contribute to the already excessive amount of misinformation out there.

    Some people just can’t handle reading the whole article I guess. Sure, I’ll add a note for those that don’t. Follow up – I’ve added “nature” to the title.

  11. Anthony,

    See the link below to follow in near-real-time the whereabouts of the SO2 plume from various satellite instruments (OMI, GOME2, SCIAMACHY).

    yesterday’s (August 18) image from OMI:

    More images here:

    The American CALIPSO lidar instrument has frequent overpasses of various parts of the plumes, which can be helpful to determine the altitude of the plumes

  12. If the planet is at all susceptible to runaway thermal events it will most certainly have happened before. Where is the evidence in the geological record?

    I have read elsewhere that most of China’s power generating effluent ends up in this same area of the globe and over the western USA. Will this increasing output from China not impact on any SO2 measurements?

  13. “Unfortunately, most any global cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it is, will probably be labeled as “volcanically induced” due to this event.”

    And after the effects of this eruption have worn off any further cooling of the globe – natural or human induced – could well be attributed solely to the Large Atmospheric Sulfur Dioxide Experiment, which, if all going to plan, will continue and be promoted heavily.

    The AGW people now need something to explain naturally declining global temperatures and from what I’ve seen to date it would not surprise me if the LASDE or some other hair-brained scheme was sold to the world’s population as the saviour of runaway GW. In this way there will be no reason why people’s negative perceptions of CO2 should change, naturally occurring causes for the earth’s cooling trend will be kept from the public, and plans to introduce carbon taxes and so on will continue unabated.

    Well, that’s one possible scenario and my 2¢ worth.

  14. I have also seen suggestions such as putting special satellites into the mesosphere or higher that reflect sunlight back into space. That might be a more manageable “solution”, if we have no choice.

  15. Maybe we’re returning to “normal” volcanic activity levels. Part of the warming over the 20th century resulted from the absence of large explosive volcanic eruptions for long periods and the low number during others.

    Kasatochi is located at too high a latitude for it to have a substantial effect on global temperatures, though it might impact some of the polar amplification that’s left over from the 97/98 El Nino. Then again, polar amplification is a noticable contributor to the warming.

    With Kasatochi working on the NH high latitudes and Chaiten in the SH, it will be interesting to watch.

  16. This volcanic event puts to end another experiment conducted by nature, wherein we had a long period of time when the NH atmosphere was very clean. I myself assumed this ash-free period had a warming-effect, though I did not see it discussed anywhere.

    I have a dim memory of reading somewhere that volcanic SO2 causes cooling in the short term, but that later on it results in warming. As I recall the discussion suggested the SO2 reacted with Ozone, reducing the amount of Ozone in the upper atmosphere, which in turn allowed more Ultraviolet Rays to hit the earth. The suggestion was that, as the atmosphere cleaned itself, the cooling effect of SO2 vanished as the SO2 vanished, and in its place was the warming effect of depleted Ozone.

    Perhaps it was in a paper attempting to explain why there seems to be a correlation between major volcanic eruptions (cooling) and El Ninos (warming.)

    If anyone knows more about this idea, or wishes to explain why this idea should be thrown into the trash, I’d be grateful.

    (My problem is that, during this debate, I am often directed via links to long and technical papers which cross my eyes and give me migraines. I dutifully do my best to be a good citizen and stay informed, but my general impression is that the chemistry and engineering of the atmosphere is amazing, wonderful, and that anyone who thinks we are even close to understand it all is fooling themselves.) (But that is no reason to stop studying.)

  17. Maybe it is time for an update on the NASA AIRS team? I would like to know if they are still on track. They might even be able to shed some light on this occurrence.

  18. Yes, at the first glance of this article i feared that tha alarmist now has yet another excuse for the lower temperatures.

    The La Nina levelled off around May, but the temperatures are still much lower than last year. And now a little late, something happends that they can use as explanation.

    But still, we appear to be in for a very cold period, and never mind what, if the alarmists uses this event as explanation, they contradict earlier statements that CO2 effect is much much larger than the sun and volcanos, dont they?

    Suddently alarmists would have to admit that a rising CO2 level has very little effect compared to natrual events? So maybe they have to think a little before using this event?

  19. Anthony: Would a high latitude volcanic eruption induce a positive or negative AO? I would think there would be some influence, but which way? Low latitude volcanoes create a positive as noted in the quote that follows from the IPCC’s AR4.

    Caleb: There is a short Arctic warming during winter months that shows up a couple of years after a volcanic eruption in the tropics.

    Reference:“Volcanic Eruptions and Climate” by Alan Robock
    Quote: “After the 1982 El Chichon and 1991 Pinatubo eruptions the tropical bands (30S–30N) warmed more than the 30N–90N band…producing an enhanced pole-to-equator temperature gradient. The resulting stronger polar vortex produces the tropospheric winter warming…”

    Also, in Chapter 2 of AR4, (page 195), the IPCC describes this winter warming further: “Anomalies in the volcanic-aerosol induced global radiative heating distribution can force significant changes in atmospheric circulation, for example, perturbing the equator-to-pole heating gradient…and forcing a positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation that in turn causes a counterintuitive boreal winter warming at middle and high latitudes over Eurasia and North America…”

    I haven’t found anything that says it happens after a high-latitude eruption.

  20. If the estimate that this volcano will be ten times less than Pinatubo in SO2 emissions is correct, then surely it is likely to have a relatively small influence on global temperatures: or is the SO2 effect logarithmic with the first 10% added having the greatest effect?

  21. “But we’ll watch, measure, and see what this smaller event does for our global climate.”

    Yes, and then we’ll compare the earth’s temperature against the control earth I have in my pocket…. ;-) Seriously, how will we know exactly what this event did, if we don’t know how things would have looked without it? Same goes for CO2 of course…..

  22. I agree that a big enough volcano will be used as an excuse (if necessary) by alarmists. Indeed, I asked an alarmist the other day exactly what caused the Little Ice Age and he asserted confidently that it was caused by volcanos.

    The thing is, volcanos are part of the environment too. By all appearances, the world has a few major volcanos every century. If the alarmists’ predictions (on the time scale of 50 to 100 years) are made on the assumption that there will be no volcanos, then those predictions are worthless.

  23. Are these AGW people completely bonkers? Has the belief in their hypothesis become so distorted that they’d risk utterly reckless atmospheric experiments simply to avoid the perceived ignominy of being disproved? This is just further evidence that AGW is slowly leaning more towards fundamentalist belief and further away from science: true scientists welcome contrary research as the means by which their hypotheses can be either refuted, improved or accepted. Let’s hope none of these hair-brained schemes make it beyond the drawing board.

  24. Here’s another idea: I read yesterday that it’s estimated that termites produce more C02 than human emissions. So let’s slaughter those damned termites (keeping some specimens to restore the colonies once it’s proved that C02 actually had very little to do with climate variation). At least we’ll have a few precious years without our houses being eaten!……and let’s not even get into the Wetlands, those filthy pits of carbon pollution!……(Only joking).

  25. bit late to blame the cold on this eruption NZ today has recorded the the biggest snow base in the history of commercial skiing in New Zealand. The snow stake at 2000m above sea level officially measures 455cm’s this morning. We are now wondering where it might all end up. Whakapapa is also entering record territory at 350cm’s, which is the most since 1994. Ok enough is enough, just blue skies now please.

    also more snow on the way

    charts and pics of the snow here (scroll down);

    another freezing blast hitting Australia now

  26. Frank L/Denmark
    The biggest problem in the AGW debate is that the ‘Alarmists’ are as changeable as the weather.

  27. Wow, I am sure this is going to work. This is just like Hansen predicting warming when we are in the interglacial warming cycle. It really isnt a stretch to get cooling during a cooling cycle of a solar/sunspot minimum.

  28. Ok, let me get this straight….all of this SO2 into the atmosphere, and we get a 1-3% reduction in incoming solar radiation, thereby reducing global temps??—–But, the sun has no effect on temps??(Ahem, or so says RC and the Team.)

    And, with a ~10 year downslope on global temps, I am really inteested in learning the “NEW” argument that global cooling preceeded the actual SO2 in the atmosphere.—This is tons of fun, and so confusing my head is still spinning.

  29. Don’t worry. These schemes for “curing” global warming (seeding the oceans/atmosphere) will never have the support of environmentalists because they do nothing to reduce man to pre-industrial living conditions.

  30. Mea Culpa: I did in fact only skim the Wired article, I was getting ready for work. Apologies.

    John D. , do a search for ‘Humanist Manifesto’. Version I was written in the ’30s, and Version III was in the early 70s, IIRC. Very enlightening, esp with regards to the education system and politicians.

  31. Well, good timing! The cover story for the next Science News has a photo of the Mt St Helens explosion and the headline “Global Cooling.” The story is actually about a Peruvian volcano that erupted in 1600 which may have led to a three year stretch of crop failures in Russia. One third of the population died in the ensuing famine. See

    The article is largely written for people who haven’t learned that “It’s not the ash, it’s the SO2” and reports that most of the SO2 came from liquid (dirty water, I assume) and not rocks.

    The most useful information may be

    Not only were preindustrial farming practices possibly more resilient to total agricultural failure, people then “were used to living on the margin,” Dunning says. “Everybody knew hunger … and the idea that you should plan for a bad year was ingrained in these societies.”

    Today, by comparison, the world’s surplus food supply would last only about 90 days, a number that’s steadily dropping as population increases.

    That may be pessimistic. Transportation will help. I’ve long claimed that a very good conservation practice would be “First, we eat all the beef.” And, in light of recent events, Russia seems to have more options than it did in the early 1600s.

    Sigh. I really didn’t want a damn “stratospheric injection event” until more people figured out that it’s not the CO2 behind recent warming.

  32. Changing the earth’s reflectivity may be a good way to regulate its temperature. But hopefully there is a better way to do it than dumping tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. That’s some pretty nasty stuff.

    BTW How does this work? That brown cloud looks like it would absorb sunlight rather than reflect it.

    REPLY: Part of the cloud is ash.

  33. Mr B (22:09:31) :

    “Anyone remember the shrieking over acid rain? How is this different/better?”

    The key word is stratosphere. If you look at the temperature profile at (be sure to click on the image to see the annotated version), the temperature rises through the stratosphere. This makes it very hard for moist air from the Earth’s surface to reach the stratosphere and wash out the SO2.

    Acid rain develops in the troposphere and washes out in only days or weeks. SO2 in the stratosphere remains for years and turns into an aerosol that reflects sunlight and produces a couple years of cooling. Eventually it does settle out and normal temperatures return.

    This eruption may be much more significant than the volcano in Chile a few months ago.

  34. How dare the volcano do this without filing an Environmental Impact Statement?!? Call out the lawyers!

    Slightly more seroiusly, if SO2 is common, resulting from coal combustion, what of the 1.3GT of coal burned each year in China? Does the smoke not get high enough to create the same effect? LASDE in progress?

    Global Warming, Global Cooling, Climate Change, Acid Rain, Peak Oil.. I’m gonna need a bigger score card to keep track of all these pending disasters.

  35. One saving grace is suggested from this article on the Chilean volcane (Chaiten), see

    Because Chaiten did not put a high concentration of sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere, it is unlikely to have an effect on global temperatures. But its impact is also limited by its location. Most of the volcanoes that have influenced global temperatures are located in the center of the globe near the equator. Winds in the stratosphere in the tropics quickly circulate sulfate aerosols around the globe. By contrast, stratospheric winds near the poles tend to push sulfate aerosols towards the poles and towards the surface, limiting the area influenced by the aerosols. Located in southern Chile far from the equator, Chaiten would be unlikely to influence global temperatures even if the amount of sulfur dioxide coming from the volcano were higher (unless the eruption were sustained for many months).

    Kasatochi may be a little closer to the pole than Chaiten.

  36. Anthony wrote: “REPLY: No, but it does mean that most any cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it, will be labeled automatically as “volcanic induced”. – Anthony”

    Bingo! That’s exactly what will happen and NASA’a already begun the drum-beats!

    Jack Koenig, Editor
    The Mysterious Climate Project

  37. Will this have a immediate (within days) effect on temperature in the Northern Hemisphere? or a slow effect (months/years)
    ..and if so how much ..

    because if this summer is getting even worse, im driving to the mediteranian.

  38. One of the signatures of a big enough volcanic event to impact global climate is warming in the stratosphere. The three big ones in the last 50 years all left this signal.

    So far, however, there is no change in stratospheric temps according to UAH’s daily sat temp measures in the upper atmosphere. Maybe too early. Maybe not big enough.

    REPLY: Too early, dispersal and chemical change have yet to occur.

  39. Patrick Henry (22:06:02) :
    REPLY: No, but it does mean that most any cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it, will be labeled automatically as “volcanic induced”. – Anthony
    Takes the Sun and its minimum off the hook for now…

  40. Why don’t they leave Nature alone? Mankind is only part of Mother Earth for a minute part and they already want to change it.

    As I mentioned before why don’t accept Climate as it is and get on with your life and spend money to the 3rd world instead of crazy experiments which only purpose is to keep all them climatologists at work fer crissakes…

  41. RE:
    “Unfortunately, most any global cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it is, will probably be labeled as “volcanically induced” due to this event.”

    Of course, down the road, they’ll rewrite the history to make the last 12 month’s cooling “volcanically induced”, just like the CO2-induced warming of the 20th century (for which at least half the warming occurred before the big rise in CO2).

  42. If the AGW crowd is serious, then let them agitate for nuclear power plants and prove that they are not against progress. I believe though that they are afraid of progress.

  43. Nature conveniently provides a cherry for the AGW crowd to pick.

    We’ll see how big the cherry grows, a blip on the Radar or a full page in the following IPCC Report.

  44. Forget the political stuff, I remember the winter of 92-93, I was a senior in High School back then and it was cold, real cold. The day before Thanksgiving Break, I recall driving my Corsica to school and by lunch enough snow had fallen to cover the hood. An impressive feat considering that I do in Texas.

    Autumn has aleady arrived in the Texas Panhandle like Denver, we are experiencing record cool temperatures. With the addition of this volcanic eruption I am really worried about what this coming winter will bring. Is it going to be 92-93 all over again, or are we going to experience the joys of what my dad used to call the Blizzard of 1955, when millions of head of cattle froze to death across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico?

    Anyhow, I hope those windfarm engineers considered the fact that the Texas Panhandle can (and does) turn into the Canadian Arctic sometimes, and the fact that we are the “Saudi Arabia of Wind” does come at the expense of some really miserable weather including but not limited to, annual tornados, straightline winds that can exceed 100MPH, sub zero (F) blizzard conditions with winds exceeding 50MPH, Ice Storms, and heavy snows.

    The 1991 eruption caused a cooling of about 0.7 C by the Winter of 92-93, given that that was an El Nino year with a positive PDO, and the expectation of NOAA seems to be ENSO neutral, with a chance of La Nina conditions reforming by late Winter/ Early Spring. Combined with a cooling Atlantic, I think that we are in for a wild ride come late fall.

    My question is how cold is it going to get?

  45. “Unfortunately, most any global cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it is, will probably be labeled as “volcanically induced” due to this event.”

    That can be prevented(partly) by beeing one step ahead.

    – Try to figure out who or what organisations that would possibly contribute cooling or lack of warming the next few years to this volcano.

    – Get a forecast of global temperaratures for the next years from those persons/organisations that also explains why the temperature will be as they predict. What forcings will there be that will affect temperatures up and down?

    – Wait 2 years, watch them fail with their predictions. Enjoy.

    If they know what effect this volcano will have on earths temperature given a certain amount of sulfur they should be able to predict global temperatures the next years. We know that this volcano eruption has happened so if they know what affects our climate they can add this volcanos negative feedback and predict global temperatures given this new information, or maybe not.

    In order to be able to tell how much this eruption affects temperature they must have full control of other forcings otherwise they wont be able to tell what forcing that is actually causing the cooling.

    I mean, they can’t say we dont know how much factor X is and only know partly how much facor Z is but we are certain that factor Y is the reason.

  46. It’s a bummer that Mother Nature has taken AGW ‘s side by giving them an excuse for any near term temperature declines.

    “Unfortunately, most any global cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it is, will probably be labeled as “volcanically induced” due to this event.”

  47. SO2 concentration above Antarctica has a wierd pinwheel look. Watt’s up with that?

    REPLY: yes I noted that also, but don’t have time at the moment to investigate it.

  48. To change some thing is to assume you know what that thing is. To presume we fully understand the workings of the climate systems that make up what we think of as the global climate is preposterous and just asking for trouble. What happens if an action was taken and the result was catastrophic heat or cold in a particular area of the world and many thousands died as a result? Can you imagine the lawsuits, the international rancor and hostilities that could erupt from playing with a system you don’t fully understand? In software testing, developers usually tell testers two things: “It works on my machine.” (They have a controlled and insular environment.) and “That couldn’t possibly happen.” And guess what? The latter statement is often shown to be false as not all of the possibilities have been thought through. And we also don’t see unintended consequences. I guess we never learn from the Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein fable.

  49. I think that this is a great idea.
    Here in Wisconsin I make a skating rink in my back yard for my kids but I don’t always have the right weather conditions.
    This way I can have my skating rink all year ’round!

  50. We are fortunate. Normally, this event would have been in addition to significant sulfur oxides from China. However, due to the Olympics, that output has been artificially low since mid July. Had this occurred earlier in the year, we’d really be crying now.

  51. So, we’ve actually measured the cooling effects of having massive amounts of SO2 dumped into the air by volcanoes. Has the opposite effect ever been documented where massive amounts of CO2 pumped into the air by fires led to warming effects?

  52. Regarding dispersal: I would imagine this event comes at one of the more opportune times in the year for dispersal now as we are headed towards fall and fall in the northern hemisphere brings increased mixing from northern lattitudes to southern lattitudes. I’m no meteorologist, but having lived in the Midwest all my life and watching the fall weather September-December brings cold fronts from the north swinging the jet stream to the south and warm-fronts and intense lows from the south ( – see 1998 “land tropical storm”). Sounds like a good way to get the atmosphere mixed up.

  53. That’s a big volcanic plume. I suppose the reason the eruption didn’t get much media coverage is that it’s in such an isolated part of the world.

    Wondered why it got so suddenly cool and cloudy on Vancouver Island in the middle of August.

  54. Leif, not a big enough effect to take the minimizing sun off the hook. But it will be blamed for the survival of the Baby Ice. I’m convinced enough of the quiescent sun and the flipped PDO that we will have cooling long after the effects of this nicely timed experiment are collected and analyzed.

  55. As I recall the government spent a half a billion dollars studying acid rain with the results being inconclusive with respect to coal burning power plants.

  56. The only cost effective way to put large quantities of SO2 into the troposphere is to bomb volcanoes with precision guided bunker busters. Well place bombs could start eruptions. Let nature do the rest.

    Seriously, the only way this wrong headed project can be stopped is by suing the primary government agencies involved for NEPA violations and other applicable federal laws. I am reasonably certain that a public interest non-profit law firm, such as the Pacific Legal Foundation, would be interested in litigation of this kind.

    By borrowing a page from the Enviros, a success full suit could result in permanent injunctions to stop the boondoggle. Legal fees by a successful litigant are also recoverable. This is how organizations like the Sierra Club Defense Fund obtain much of its operating capital. For example, the spotted owl litigation made them millions.

    It is amazing how hubris of some scientists and engineers drives them to attempt to interfere with or control natural processes in order to achieve some self-perceived benefits. They always screw up. For example, the Corps of Engineers has destroyed more wetlands and riparian systems with its flood control projects than all of the this nations property developers combined. Their Mississippi River projects are a prime example.

  57. This story has two sides to it. I remember reading an article that said Europe has warmed because of cleaner air. The cleaner air results in less particulate matter therefore there are less condensation nuclei…hence…There are less clouds, letting more sunlight through. So actually pollution (Including this) can somewhat be a good thing because it lets a smaller amount of light through which regulates temperatures so they don’t go to high.

    This can also have a bad side. If you release a cloud of sulfur and ash over the arctic that ash is going to fall on the ice causing it to blacken which would cause the arctic to melt faster because of the decreased albedo.

  58. SO2 concentration above Antarctica has a wierd pinwheel look. Watt’s up with that?

    It matches the continual low pressure systems that circle the Southern Ocean. So it’s probably a precipitation effect.

    BTW, Southern Ocean storms are as intense as tropical hurricanes/cyclones. Two weeks ago, one had a central pressure of 928 millibars, the equivalent of a cat 4 hurricane.

  59. Having mastered the problems of war, poverty, ignorance, crime and disease, the Creator now decided that mankind should manage the climate of the earth. NOT!

  60. Re acid rain I thought I’d read that the scientific claim was based on soil sampling of a region later found to be naturally acidic, that the acid rain thing was never factual so much as a big environmental scare about like DDT. Fancy that.

    If true then I suppose it’s proper to ask when the enviros have _ever_ been right. They were wrong about DDT, wrong about acid rain, wrong about cancer* and carcinogens, and they’re wrong about the global warming stuff.

    (* e.g. it was supposed that cancers were caused by environmental factors, although later research {by skeptics of course} showed that cervical cancer is caused by HPV strains and stomach cancer is caused by a bacteria, Heliobacter Pylori, not stress or something that evil mankind put in the environment. It appears as though _most_ cancers will eventually prove out similarly. This change in thinking has even associated heart disease with oral bacteria rather than dietary fat. It’s not the environment after all.)

    An article today shows that the organic food touted by granola munching enviros is _not_ healthier or have more nutrients than conventional food. So I come back to my thesis — have the enviros _ever_ been right about _anything_? I say, resoundingly, NO.

    Sanity may yet prevail.

    1. The recent scary sounding business trying to implicate cell phones with brain cancers was laughed off by researchers and medical establishments that know what they’re doing. It didn’t even get real legs before it was being taken down.

    2. On dot earth even some of the alarmists (at least of those trying to be intellectually honest) are questioning the new CA solar power project by noting (correctly) that it takes more total energy to create and run the proposed PV station than it can produce.

    I would have _never_ guessed that I’d see medical specialists taking on cancer scare stories and alarmists writing about total energy budgets on the Revkin blog. This gives me hope that there really is a change underway.

  61. I wonder if the effect of this will be diminished (ie seen as a failure of the WIRED experiment) because this is happening as we approach winter up there and the sun’s angle is lower. The descriptive picture is a bit misleading showing the sun’s rays beaming straight down onto the north pole. High noon!

  62. Re: acid rain

    Are you telling me the acid rain threat was exaggerated? Because when I was in 5th grade, I was convinced it was a serious problem. So much so that me and a couple classmates made a little acid rain “rap song” for a school project. Please tell me that was meaningful!

    On a more serious note, I shudder to think what children are being taught in elementary school about climate change today. I don’t have any children yet, but I know I would be keeping an eye on that if I were a parent. Of course, I’m aware of this issue. My guess is that 90% of parents just go along with it. Any parents in here run across any interesting reading material/propaganda in their child’s schoolwork?

  63. Wow.

    All this time I’ve heard the skeptics objecting to the AGWers that claim ‘the debate is over’… what do I see here, but the skeptics not only writing the reports of a future, hypothetical debate as over, but you’ve supplied both sides of the argument (‘AGW is false’; vs. ‘AGW is true but was overcome by volcanoes’)- which, of course, you’ve handily won. Congratulations on such a hard-won victory, you must be so proud.

    I thought I might possibly have found a skeptic site that actually cared about honest debate, but clearly there is little need perceived for that here.

    REPLY: Making a blanket assumption from one statement? Hmm. Well you are certainly welcome to debate it. Nobody is shutting debate down.

  64. Spewing a megaton of pollution into the atmosphere – to “begin” the cooling process – is guaranteed to trigger the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    If these jamokes could divine the future, they’d be retired in Tahiti. The stock market is a lot less complex than the climate.

    Besides, nature is already doing it for us: click

  65. Here in Seattle we were just one degree above our record low maximum for 17 August.

    Since we set a one degree record high max just a few days before that, it’s hard not to speculate about a relationship between the volcanic cloud and temperatures on the West coast.

  66. Can someone offer up evidence to the non-existence of acid rain? And perhaps a better reason as to why the pH and aquatic productivity of lakes in the NE U.S. are so low? I’m skeptical of the claims that human caused acid-rain is baseless.

  67. I thought plenty of SO2 was already produced over the oceans by Dimethyl Sulfide reacting to Ultraviolet rays. This is at low altitudes and is key to low ocean cloud formation (at least according to Dr Svensmark), so I suppose the difference is that this SO2 is injected into the Stratosphere.

  68. The problem of Acid Rain was ludicrously exaggerated in the 1970s and 1980s by environmentalists who wanted to us all to be punished for our materialistic misdeeds. This article gives a pretty balanced account, describing Acid Rain as “a nuisance and not a catastophe”. It is not that Acid Rain did not exist or was totally harmless, just that most of the bad things blamed on it were not real and that it was relatively easy to mitigate the few actual problems it caused.

    One of the reasons why I am a global warming sceptic is because for the environmentalists AGW is simply too good to be true. After the failure of: the new ice age; DDT causes cancer; GM foods cause cancer; the hole in the ozone layer; acid rain; Malthusian hyper population growth causing starvation; etc it is just too convenient for them to have an even bigger stick to beat us all up with. I am a sceptic because in life I believe that if something seems too good to be true then it is too good to be true – and for the green lobby AGW is simply too good to be true.

  69. In Brazil the left as dominated the educational system for some time now. It is a centralised system and all schools ,public and private, have to teach the same curriculum. Homeschooling is illegal. Geography is now reduced to Global Warming, Environmemtalism and the U.N.. History is Capitalism-bad;Socialism -good. I have had to deprogram my kids all through their school life. Fortunately, it is working as they have no fear in arguing with their teachers, supporting their arguments with facts and figures and this has given them kudos with their fellow students. The trouble is that this has resulted in them having little respect for their teachers and the educational system.

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  71. Patrick Hadley–“if things sound too good to be true…”–on GM foods, it is not that they cause cancer, it is that there is no way to tell what will happen to the “nature” of our food stuffs once GM crops have integrated into non-GM crops. Buddy, practice what you preach—don’t GM foods sound, as you fastened yourself to, “too good to be true”?

    JRocha–keep up the good work with your kids.

  72. My personal feeling is that this event will affect the short-term(Fall and maybe Winter). It made it to between 35000 & 50000 ft, but at high latitudes, I don’t think it will last. Tropical region would have been more significant.IMHO

    This eruption was pretty rich in SO2, which is pretty significant for a high latitude volcano. Okmok, which erupted a month ago or so, and is nearby, only put out a small amount. The column was as high as Kasatochi I believe. Another good puff could make it a little more significant on the NH climate, along with a quiet Sun.

    BTW, what’s with all the SO2 around Antartica? Looks like a buzz saw.

  73. Gaelan Clark: One of my faverite GM foods is golden rice

    According to the World Health Organization, dietary vitamin A deficiency (VAD) causes some 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. Blindness and corneal afflictions are but indicators of more severe underlying health problems: more than half the children who lose their sight die within a year of becoming blind. VAD compromises the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of children under the age of five in the developing world, greatly increasing the risk of severe illnesses from common childhood infections.

  74. We have Pinatubo in 1991 producing at least 10 times as much SO2 than the august 2008 outbreak. So the effect of SO2 must be very much smaller than 1991.

    Therefore Alarmists can only use this “reason to temporary cooling” so much.
    I hope everybody will shoot this new AGW argument down with this as soon as it arises anywhere.

    Another thing is: Does the SO2 have an effect? Personnally i think so, from what i read, and if it has some effect it will EVEN FURTHER ACCELERATE THE COOLING.

    And even though the AGW peoble can say “Oh its the SO2”, still every layman on the whole globe will experience that its very cold. Definetely not what predicted by the AGW´s
    I dont think its so much an advantage for the AGW crew, is it??

  75. – And no i beleive the effect of SO2 is no way near logarithmic like the CO2 effekt: SO2 as i understands it work in a quite different way than CO2.

    The SO2 dropletts with wather make an aerosol-like effect (correct?) and this induces a faceshift. A such WILL REFLECT ALL RADIATION. Therefore there is not this saturation effekt of SO2. Double number of molecules means double reflection.¨

    Therefore we can say:
    “August 2008 effect can only be a fraction of the Pinatubo effect”

  76. randomengineer (10:16:13) :

    Years ago the air in Denver was practically unbreathable. One merely had to go up in the hills and look down on the city to see how bad things were.

    As a result of enviros working on our car emissions, the air is much improved. One thing for sure: there has been a big drop in lead concentrations of the air.

    Of course the auto industry just had a fit. But they cleaned up the emissions.

    Back in the 50s, everyone had a little incinerator in the back yard. Once a week everyone burned their trash. Really. People used to do that. No one thought anything of it. So rules were passed and the trash was picked up. There was a lot of yelling and screaming about ‘taxes going up’. But we managed.

    I know there was a river back east somewhere that actually caught fire and was listed as a fire hazard by the insurance companies. That was cleaned up.

    So they were right on a couple of things.

    It really is about cost benefits analysis. And real science as opposed to speculation. Speculation is fun and leads to new hypotheses. But we have test our assumptions and speculations. We start getting into trouble when we think a hypothesis is the truth.

    Claims are being made now regarding AGW that just don’t pass muster. Biggest problem they have is the current cooling of the planet. Second biggest problem is the failure to really document any problems caused by AGW. No rising seas. Food production is fine (except where hysteria has triggered conversion of food into fuel).

  77. randomengineer,

    You can add CFC’s and ozone destruction to the list of things the alarmists have been wrong about.

  78. Having my 7 year old daughter lecture the family on the need to walk to the grocery store (10 miles away), was one of the reasons we decided to home school. A decision that we never regreted.

  79. Drew,

    Research has shown that the reason many NE lakes are acidic is because rainwater flows through so much rotting vegetation before it reaches the lakes.
    This is also the reason why acidification was increasing during the 60’s and 70’s. So much of that region was reforesting.

  80. J.Rocha,

    Any educational system that places indoctrination above education, does not deserve any respect.

  81. I am afraid that I disagree with this ….. “A million tons of sulfur dioxide would be needed to begin the cooling process. Luckily SO2, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants, is a common industrial chemical.”

    Go green, go veg, and pray ….

  82. Some remarks on SO2 emissions and climate…

    The Pinatubo eruption injected some 20 million tonnes of SO2 directly into the stratosphere, where it stayed for 2-3 years (to make it convenient, let’s say 800 days). The total effect (including water vapour feedback) was a cooling of maximum 0.6 ºC. Humans emit around 80 million tonnes SO2 per year, mainly in the troposphere where it lasts for average 4 days. The direct effect of both (sunlight scattering on wetted sulphate particles) is virtually the same, which means that the direct effect of human made aerosols is around 0.025 ºC (including a 4-day accumulation). Tropospheric aerosols also are supposed to have an indirect effect on clouds (more reflective, longer lasting). The IPCC gives a fourfold range increase for this forcing, compared to the direct effect. If we assume this is right, then the net effect of human made SO2 emissions would be 0.1 ºC.

    But the cooling effect of aerosols incorporated in current models is much larger. The Hadcm3 model has made a retrofit of the influence of aerosol changes in the period 1990-1999 (thanks, William), where there should be an increase of 6 ºC at the place of largest aerosol influence in Europe. That is not visible at all in the surface station data.

    The Indoex experiment in the Indian Ocean showed a large difference in radiation balance between the NH and the SH near the equator. The NH with a large load of aerosols has a top-of-atmosphere loss of 5 W/m2, and the surface has app. 20 W/m2 less insolation. Despite that, the temperature trends on the South tip of India are more positive than for the only SH climate station (Diego Garcia) in the neighbourhood. Not only land is warming faster in that region, the heat content if the NH Indian Ocean increased slightly more than the SH, if corrected for area (as surrogate for volume).

    The overall temperature trend for land increased more for the NH than for the SH. Moreover, the heat content of the oceans increased more in the NH than in the SH (again, if corrected for area), while 90% of the aerosols are emitted and have their effect in the NH.

    Thus it seems to me that either the influence of sulphate aerosols is overestimated, or the influence of soot aerosols underestimated (or both) in current models. Either way, that means that the influence of a CO2 doubling will be on the low side of the IPCC estimates and probably below.

    Of course this is not an exact calculation and it doesn’t include a lot of other items which influence temperature trends. But it would be interesting to compare the modelled regional influence of large changes in aerosols with regional temperature trends and to compare the hemispheric differences in ocean heat content increase with hemispheric aerosol influences on energy balances.

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  84. Anthony:

    While I applaud your headlining ability to flush out those who don’t actually *critically* read the actual article, I was not referring to the debate over volcanoes’ *ability* to produce cooling effect, nor even to a debate over whether we should try… I was referring to:

    (from you): “No, but it does mean that most any cooling we see in the next couple of years, no matter what the true cause of it, will be labeled automatically as “volcanic induced”. – Anthony”

    (from McGrats): “Bingo! That’s exactly what will happen and NASA’a already begun the drum-beats!” [didn’t see a cite, I would be interested if there is one]

    (from Frank L:) “But still, we appear to be in for a very cold period, and never mind what, if the alarmists uses this event as explanation, they contradict earlier statements that CO2 effect is much much larger than the sun and volcanos, dont they?” [to Frank’s credit, he does say “if”]

    (from dreamin): “I agree that a big enough volcano will be used as an excuse (if necessary) by alarmists.”

    (from Alan Chapelle): “The biggest problem in the AGW debate is that the ‘Alarmists’ are as changeable as the weather.” [not sure what that means exactly, but it seems to be a kind of reply to the hypothetical scenario that alarmists will blame volcanoes for creating hypothetical cooling]

    (from Matt): “Of course, down the road, they’ll rewrite the history to make the last 12 month’s cooling “volcanically induced”, just like the CO2-induced warming of the 20th century (for which at least half the warming occurred before the big rise in CO2).”

    (from kim): “Leif, not a big enough effect to take the minimizing sun off the hook. But it will be blamed for the survival of the Baby Ice.”

    I am a skeptic, of both sides. When I read the AGW *scientists*, I see hypotheses that we very well may be heading for real trouble… they are by no means certain enough to make any predictions – but they’ve seen that the probabilities of a trend are high enough, and the consequences harmful enough, that they feel the need to report on it now, even while they are working on learning more.

    Yes, it’s true that many alarmists have overstated the reports of the scientists, and often mischaracterize (or at the very least misunderstand) the scientific position; I mostly ignore them, and just look at the data, and the scientists’ opinions, themselves.

    However, on the extremist skeptic side, I see mostly attack by derision and negating of straw-man arguments, often by attributing claims and positions to the opponent, not based on anything actually said but what the attacker thinks they *will say*, or “obviously” think (i.e., mindreading). To me, that is a red flag, that the person is more interested in inventing an argument rather than debating a position actually held.

    As a skeptic of both sides, I would join you in decrying the use of extremist or alarmist positions or arguments by either side; however from the quote above it seems that you, and several of your readers, have decided that ‘debate by mindreading’ is acceptable.

    To me, it is not, and only adds to the noise, no matter which side does it.

  85. Jack Simmons

    I always enjoy your reasonable and well thought out comments.

    Regarding this:

    I know there was a river back east somewhere that actually caught fire and was listed as a fire hazard by the insurance companies. That was cleaned up.

    That was the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland, Ohio. And you’re right, People fish there all the time now. The EPA says the fish are fine to eat.

    The U.S. is now one of the very cleanest countries on Earth — if not the cleanest. The Ganges river in India is terribly filthy and hazardous. China had to shut down their entire industry in and around Beijing during the Olympics to pretend they aren’t gross, filthy polluters with zero regard for the environment or the atmosphere. Ever been across the border to Mexico?

    Almost exclusively, America, now the cleanest country on the planet, gets attacked incessantly by the green lobby 24/7/365. Now we’re supposed to feel guilty about extremely minor issues like plastic grocery bags, of all things. [The real reason for that is because they occasionally cause jamming in the automated trash separating machinery, so the recyclers have to hire more expensive human pickers. Bad for the bottom line. Solution: a few bucks in the right pockets, and the drumbeat starts… Grocery bags, ba-aa-ad. Carry your own burlap sacks around, goo-oo-ood]

    See how it works?

  86. Interesting. Almost sounds like terraforming the Earth but it’d be a lot easier and cheaper if we’d just stop dumping stuff into the atmosphere to stop global warming at the source.

  87. Ferdinand Englebeen: Do you have references for the OHC statements you make about the overall NH and SH? If so, please provide links. I’d like to read them. Thanks.

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  89. @Bob Tisdale,

    The ocean heat content data are from Levitus e.a., “Warming of the world ocean, 1955–2003”:
    The SI contains the main increase of the heat content of the different oceans for the two hemispheres and combined.

    Detailed heat content data are available as yearly and pentad files at: or directly at:

    I can’t remember where I found the area’s for the different hemispheric oceans, but here is the ratio for the total of all oceans: 43/57 NH/SH
    I have plotted the difference in ocean heat content per hemisphere (as surrogate for volume) here:

    There are a few remarkable points: The largest increase in ocean heat content is at the subtropics. This coincidences with the decrease in cloudiness in the (sub)tropics found by Chen e.a. for the period 1980-2003 ( ) and differs from the GHG “fingerprint”, which should be more evenly spread over the latitudes. See Fig. 2 and S4 in Levitus e.a.

    Moreover, as GHGs are near equal in the NH and SH, while 90% of the anthro SO2 emissions are in the NH, the NH oceans should warm less fast than the SH oceans…

  90. You should watch what you wish for, because the excess sulfates have a dark side to their presence, beyond the desired short-term moderation of regional-global climate (not that it’s needed presently, with the effects of couple cold-phase PDO and ENSO).

    Prepare for Pandora’s Box to open.

  91. Jack Simmons claims that the US is “one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, nation on Earth”, with respect to pollution.

    Excuse me, what planet are you from, again?

    According to the most recent USGS survey of rivers and streams in the US, the situation has not improved much over the last several decades. Not only are groundwater levels dropping nationwide as subsurface supply is withdrawn, it’s more polluted than ever before, at depth.

    Our cities are NOT much less than polluted/polluting, because incremental decreases in source pollutant loading are met and exceeded by mass increase in the number of sources. For example, the average vehicle on the road is larger and emits more pollutants than a decade ago, and the number of vehicles and miles driven continues to climb each year. Our older power plants were to meet new EPA guidelines for retrofitting – until the present Administration got those regulations thrown out, along with attempts to control carbon emissions by instituting greenhouse gas controls.

    But even if we weren’t continually adding to our air and water contaminant signature of global pollutants, we recipient to a massive long distance loading from SE Asia.

    And, we’ve been sending our pollution hello’s to NW Europe for decades – it’s been tracked through wet deposition monitoring, particulate traps and air chemistry sampling and in ice cores.

    Tell the Europeans the US is a ‘clean, nonpolluting country’, and they’ll laugh in your face.

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