New study suggests that the volcanic impact on climate may be significantly underestimated

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland acquired April 17, 2010 - Image NASA MODIS

Thick ash poured from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image on April 17, 2010. The ash in this image is at two different altitudes. A concentrated plume rises over a more diffuse cloud of ash, casting a dark shadow on the ash below. The volcano had been emitting ash in puffs that reached between 16,000 and 24,000 feet, according to the Icelandic Met Office. The higher plume seen here is likely from a more explosive event.

Now some new research on this eruption leads to a conclusion that volcano aerosols may be underestimated. Apparently they find that there’s a secondary nucleation particle mechanism. They say:

…we report the first observation of nucleation and new secondary particle formation events in a volcanic plume.

Essentially, they analyzed how many secondary particles this ash generated as it reacted with the atmospheric chemistry  of the atmosphere. They found that  particles created from the eruptions were mostly composed of sulfuric acid, but as a consequence of the atmospheric reactions, especially at lower than previously considered altitudes, they grew over time, multiplying the effect. This new paper was in the PNAS early edition this week.

Abstract:

Observations of nucleation of new particles in a volcanic plume

  1. Julien Boulona,1,
  2. Karine Sellegria,
  3. Maxime Hervoa, and
  4. Paolo Lajb

+ Author Affiliations


  1. aLaboratoire de Météorologie Physique, Observatoire de Physique du Globe de Clermont Ferrand, Centre National de la Recheche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 6016, Université Blaise Pascal, 63177 Aubière, France; and

  2. bLaboratoire de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l’Environnement, Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers de Grenoble, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5183, Université Joseph Frourier, BP 53-38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
  1. Edited by Mark H. Thiemens, University of California, La Jolla, CA, and approved June 21, 2011 (received for review March 29, 2011)

Abstract

Volcanic eruptions caused major weather and climatic changes on timescales ranging from hours to centuries in the past. Volcanic particles are injected in the atmosphere both as primary particles rapidly deposited due to their large sizes on time scales of minutes to a few weeks in the troposphere, and secondary particles mainly derived from the oxidation of sulfur dioxide. These particles are responsible for the atmospheric cooling observed at both regional and global scales following large volcanic eruptions. However, large condensational sinks due to preexisting particles within the plume, and unknown nucleation mechanisms under these circumstances make the assumption of new secondary particle formation still uncertain because the phenomenon has never been observed in a volcanic plume. In this work, we report the first observation of nucleation and new secondary particle formation events in a volcanic plume. These measurements were performed at the puy de Dôme atmospheric research station in central France during the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in Spring 2010. We show that the nucleation is indeed linked to exceptionally high concentrations of sulfuric acid and present an unusual high particle formation rate. In addition we demonstrate that the binary H2SO4 – H2O nucleation scheme, as it is usually considered in modeling studies, underestimates by 7 to 8 orders of magnitude the observed particle formation rate and, therefore, should not be applied in tropospheric conditions. These results may help to revisit all past simulations of the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate.

h/t to reader “Scarlet Pumpernickel”.

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51 thoughts on “New study suggests that the volcanic impact on climate may be significantly underestimated

  1. Hmmm… This finding may also be relevant to Henrik Svensmark and his team’s theory on galactic cosmic ray modulation on average cloud cover, as that too appears dependent on the rate of aerosol production in the atmosphere.
    Just wondering, given that these nucleation particles are a basis for cloud formation, has anyone linked historical volcanic activity to observed cloud cover variability during the satellite era?

  2. @Darrin Parker, More likely they’ll use it to explain away any cooling since the eruption. The Chinese sulphur aerosols explain the rest of the cooling.

  3. Unfortunately, a huge volcanic input to the stratosphere would give the Warmistas a decades-long excuse for the absence of any warming. Much better that the impending Solar Minimum get to do all the cooling by itself, thereby firmly destroying AGW, whereas a volcano totally lets them off the hook.

  4. Ah ha!! I thought so! This might confirm my hunch about global atmospheric temperatures since 1979. Temperatures in the 1980s and 1990s should have been much higher, and a number of swings up and down in the 2000s may now have a logical explanation. This encourages me to keep working on an article I hope to post in Mid-August (or maybe a bit later) at kenskingdom on the long term influence of SOI on temperatures moderated by volcanic activity.
    I have a question- sulfates are supposed to have an effect for only a short time. Does this study therefore imply they can have a longer influence?
    Ken

  5. Who would have ever guessed that a volcano would not be PC. Maybe as others have suggested we should tax the offending country that owns the volcano. Maybe Lisa Jackson can regulate it. But if humans are not at fault then what will the AGW “science” have as their cornerstone? Maybe VolcanicGlobalCooling brought about by a solar minimum. VGC for short.

  6. So all that is needed to end the recent warming is for Vulcanism to increase.
    No problem, as a quiet Sun or failed Solar Cycle will do the trick, increasing the rate of eruptions.

  7. “…These results may help to revisit all past simulations of the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate…”
    Sounds like they’ll need more money to re-run the climate models. And, when the model runs are over, they’ll use it to “project” that it’s worse than we thought.
    Nothing new here.

  8. Is it worse than we thought or better than we thought?
    Does the vast volume of sulphurous chemicals erupted in one of theses events have a scrubbing effect on chloroflourocarbons?
    Do the sulphurous chemicals add to or subtrtact from other man-made aerosols?
    How much of this stuff is just naturally up in the stratosphere all the time?
    I though tthe effect of large volcanic eruptions was already reasonably well constrained. If such eruptions generate an order of magnitude more sulphur compounds in the stratosphere than previously thought then is the average effect of such compounds only about 10% of what had previously been calculated?
    So many questions, so little time.

  9. I heard just the other day this cooling trend is because of Chinese factories burning Australian black coal and now the impact of volcanoes may have been underestimated.
    It’s a travesty that they can’t find the AGW signal and in the end they will run out of excuses.

  10. In addition we demonstrate that the binary H2SO4 – H2O nucleation scheme, as it is usually considered in modeling studies, underestimates by 7 to 8 orders of magnitude the observed particle formation rate and, therefore, should not be applied in tropospheric conditions.
    Many people, while spending many years working on an advanced degree, have neglected learning how to communicate. 7 to 8 orders of magnitude sounds like a lot but we are not told – at least here – what the “usual” is. Then there is that last part about “tropospheric conditions.” What are we to make of this? Are they suggesting the issue is not ready to be taken out of the laboratory? Perhaps it can be applied in stratospheric conditions? Then they note “These results may help to revisit all past simulations of the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate.”
    all; my bold. I wonder what the ‘number = all’ might be? Maybe do one and see how it works out. Funding may not be available to do “all.”

  11. Rob R says “Is it worse than we thought or better than we thought?”
    Whichever way it is, we’re doomed.
    Now say “Eyjafjallajökull” three times quickly.

  12. Q. what happens when a whole lot of SO2 is injected into the stratosphere by a large volcano
    A. The S02 combines with water vapour in the stratosphere, stripping the stratosphere of water vapour causing it to cool for decades after the event as can clearly be seen in the stratospheric temp graph on the atmospheric maps page. ftp://ftp.ssmi.com/msu/graphics/tls/plots/rss_ts_channel_tls_global_land_and_sea_v03_3.png
    Initially the SO2 injection causes an increase in stratospheric temp as the aerosols absorb energy, however after they settle out after a couple years the stratosphere is left depleted of water vapour and cools to below its original level. A classic boom and bust scenario that is obvious but has been missed by science.
    The question is what happens to the troposphere when the stratosphere cools, the observations suggest an inverse relationships that implies the Mt Pinatubo eruption may have been the cause of late 1990s step increase in temp!
    Of course we all know that the sun rotates around the earth and volcanoes cause global cooling, not global warming!

  13. No doubt the surprisingly extreme cooling effect of these volcanoes will be quickly deemed a consensus by 97% of climate scientists. This way they can warn us in the most alarming terms in the very near future that the effects from the volcanoes will eventually wear off causing the earth to be rapidly burned up in a life-ending heat wave. Therefore the solution is still – we must immediately stop using fossil energy and pay a huge carbon tax that will decimate the American way of life. Nice thing about the volcanoes being immensely cooling for an undefined period of time is it gives the warmists all the cover they need for why there was no warming for the past ten years, and perhaps the next 50 or 60 yrs if the earth stays in a cooling trend. The warmists already lost the excuse that the excess heat is stored in the deep ocean when recent data shows the deep oceans are cooling. The warmists now have the perfect alibi to keep the AGW scare alive.

  14. Why don’t we all just agree that AGW is REAL but instead of prevention let’s roll with Mitigation when/if ever it actually comes.

  15. Huh? says (11:14pm): “Why don’t we all just agree that AGW is REAL …”
    Because there isn’t any evidence of it. Next question?

  16. Huh? says: “Why don’t we all just agree that AGW is REAL but instead of prevention let’s roll with Mitigation when/if ever it actually comes.
    We don’t need to agree. Just leave in the word “if”: “Let’s roll with Mitigation if ever it actually comes“.

  17. The story about Chinese power station falls apart quite quickly.
    On this site http://ciera-air.org/wiki/country-so2-emissions
    is a spreadsheet
    Total SO2.xls – 431.5 KB
    This shows emissions to 2005, still far lower the peak years of the 70’s and 80’s
    Assuming the trend has continued the total emissions will be near to the peak years now.
    There was a warming trend in the 70’s and 80’s and there isn’t now – SO2 is not the reason for that.
    Take yor pick for the real reason. A combiation of solar, PDO and CO2 , probably in that order.
    As context total current emissions are 130m tons/year , Mt Pinatibo injected 20m tons of SO2 into the atmosphere in 1991 and dropped global temperatures by 0.5C. So the temperature drop was only partly due to the SO2?

  18. I had hoped that the Earth would experience a volcano quiet period so that we would have a better opportunity to study the effects of a quiet sun (if the sun turns out to be quiet over the next few decades).
    We do not have sufficient understanding of natural events that may impact climate let alone their inter-relationship with other natural and/or man made factors so that we can be certain of being able to eliminate these from other effects so as to ascertain the true and proper strength of each forcings.
    Obviously, there is potential for Volcanos to act as the ‘warmists’ get out of jail card. However, it may not be that simple because everything has knock on effects. I seem to recall that there is research that suggests that there was more volcano activity during the first half of the 20th century than in the latter half. I even seem to recall that the IPCC has endorsed those findings.
    This is potentially significant since if there was more volcano activity during say the period 1900 to 1950 (than during the period 1950 t0 2000) and if volcanos cause more of a cooling effect than previously estimated AND since manmade CO2 emissions cannot explain the warming during the first half of the 20th century (ie., 1900 to 1950s), it follows that whatever natural factors caused that warming, those factors must have been stronger than presentlly estimated. If those factors are still in play today, it therefore suggests a lower sensitivity to CO2 since a greater proportion of the ‘observed’ warming during the period 1950 to 2000 was due to natural factors.

  19. M.A.Vukcevic says:
    July 12, 2011 at 1:48 am
    A more realistic appraisal of the volcanic (positive and negative) forcing :
    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/ccr/publications/ammann.pdf
    ///////////////////////////////////////////////
    Thanks the heads up.
    I haven’t had time to consider the paper in detail but from a quick glance, it does appear that there was considerably more volcano activity/volcanic aerosols during the period 1920 to 1960 than compared to the period 1980 to 2000. That paper does seem to support the point I made that there appears to have been greater volcanic activity during the 1st half of the 20th century than that during the latter half. IF that is so AND IF the effect of volcanic aerosols has been underestimated (and I am not sure that it has), I consider that it follows that the natural forcing effects in play during the first half of the 20th century have been under-estimated. In passing, I would point out that the under-estimation of these would be even greater IF the temperature increase during the first half of the 20th century has been downgraded by the continued revisions to the data set which appear to down play the temperatures in the first half of the 20th century (possibly motivated by or at least having the effect of making the temperature rise during the latter half of the 20th century appear to be more signiificant) .

  20. It is a wonder that the sulphate atmospheric input is not also being blamed, with CO2, for ocean acidification.
    To put ocean acidification into perspective with worries that pH has fallen to 7.9, which is within the ‘normal’ range, the pH near volcanic vents on the oceanic ridge system has been measured at a pH of 4.5. This is extremely acid but the ocean looks after itself and this climbs rapidly to the normal range as distance from the vent increases. Species of shellfish still seem happy to live in such acid water next to the vents.

  21. Interstellar Bill says:
    July 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm
    Unfortunately, a huge volcanic input to the stratosphere would give the Warmistas a decades-long excuse for the absence of any warming.

    Yes, but people have VERY short memories now. In 10 years time, people will forget all about this and move on. The eco-commies will latch on to the next big thing. My prediction is water — our jet airplanes and SUV’s and HDTV’s are destroying the earth’s potable water supply. Big Environment has already done the hard part, which is to become established. They can quickly change to next pseudo-fad easily.

  22. Wow! You mean the lying liars who lie about humans destroying the environment are going to admit that volcanic eruptions put more “greenhouse gas” into the atmosphere than the entirety of the amount put into the atmosphere by the human race throughout its existence?
    I will believe it when it happens, loudly and across the entire world’s media outlets, and not before.

  23. “Maybe as others have suggested we should tax the offending country that owns the volcano. ”
    No no no… you have to send money to the coutnry owning the volcano for undoing some of the damage the rest of us caused. obviously.

  24. The HadSST folks sure aren’t going to be happy about this. As we just learned from RealClimate:
    “One odd feature of the HadSST2 collation was that the temperature impact of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption – which is very clear in the land measurements – didn’t really show up in the SST. Thus comparisons to model simulations (which generally estimate an impact comparable to that of Pinatubo in 1991) showed a pretty big mismatch (see Hansen et al (2007)). With the larger amount of data in this period in HadSST3, did the situation change?
    It seems clear that the new data (including HadSST3) will be closer to the models than previously, if not quite perfectly in line (but given the uncertainties in the magnitude of the Krakatoa forcing, a perfect match is unlikely). ”
    They just managed to get the observational data to match the models, and now the models are going to change?!? A climatologist’s work is never done.

  25. Hey, what’s 7 to 8 orders of magnitude between friends?
    Not only that, but Katla is next. Yup. We’re doomed.

  26. What surprises me is that they had underestimated “by 7 to 8 orders of magnitude the observed particle formation rate”. That is, they there are 10 – 100 million times more particles formed? Seems a bit on the high side to me.

  27. Does this also apply to the recent study that China’s aerosols are responsible for recent lack of warming? If so, then “underestimates by 7 to 8 orders of magnitude” means that the calculations for China are also wildly off, and the conclusions of that study also have nothing to support them.
    Everyone go back and start over.

  28. 7-8 *orders of magnitude*? In more normal english, 10,000,000-100,000,000 times? My goodness. “Juuuuust a little outside”.

  29. Unless the solar cycle decides to uptick, I don’t see the volcanoes retreating. We already seem near 1930’s levels. Silly rabbits like Gates and Mosher don’t seem to realize that we can go from one extreme to the other very rapidly when the volcanoes are blowing.

  30. mt says:
    July 12, 2011 at 4:59 am
    ///////////////////////////////////////
    I have for many years been referring to the Krakatoa discrepancy/anomaly. All one can conclude is the processes and effects of volcanos is not well understood.

  31. It does kinda distress me that the warmists and alarmists and the pro-agw scientists have largely dismissed volcanic activity as minor in terms of potential climate change effects, either from CO2 or from SO2 or dust output, cloud /droplet nucleation, etc, etc. The fact remains that these events do have an effect on climate at local or global scale depending on the scale of the eruption. Just because we do not know the mechanisms precisely or the scale of climate influence does not mean they should be dismissed.
    In all the climate system, the time ‘lag’ of an event to an appearance of a detectable signal is, or rather should be – a good indicator of both the magnitude of the event AND/OR the sensitivity of the climate to the particular event. Pinatubo is credited with significant cooling, so surely this means that either climate sensitivity is very ‘sensitive’ to the total or indeed one or more of the eruptive effects (i.e. co2, dust, etc) or perhaps more explicity, it could be very very sensitive to only one part of the eruptive effects (e.g. aerosols/dust). This mention of orders of magnitude in differences of effects should be desperately confirmed as, in true alarmist fashion, the effects of a major eruption (say, Katla?) could indeed be very catastrophic if certain conditions prevail.
    The scientific warmists already dismiss volcanic CO2 – so that’s not an issue – so presumably, it must be something else that acts as the major cooling inducing (-ve feedback) factor. Knowing what this is and the climate sensitivity to ‘it’ is clearly important. Again, this illustrates why the fixation with manmade CO2 is so wrong! If a major eruption takes place, CO2 may the only thing preventing massive cooling!

  32. In my opinion, this is a paper (I’m sure there’ll be more listing other factors) that will be used if needed, to explain away any cooling we may have if the sun does go into a prolonged solar minimum and cooling does occur.

  33. John Marshall says @ July 12, 2011 at 2:39 am “Species of shellfish still seem happy to live in such acid water next to the vents.”
    Not sure it make sense to project the marine ecosystem as a whole from some specialized species that do OK near the vents.

  34. Interstellar Bill says:
    July 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm
    Unfortunately, a huge volcanic input to the stratosphere would give the Warmistas a decades-long excuse for the absence of any warming. Much better that the impending Solar Minimum get to do all the cooling by itself, thereby firmly destroying AGW, whereas a volcano totally lets them off the hook.

    Not much evidence that individual stratospheric volcanos cause significant global cooling, Pinatubo was accompanied by a big drop in TSI. A whole bunch of volcanoes going off might make more of a difference.
    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/volcanos-dont-cause-global-cooling/
    Mind you, now that TSI is classified information, we may never know…
    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/latest-tsi-figures-sorry-thats-classified-information-sir/

  35. mt says:
    July 12, 2011 at 4:59 am (Edit)
    The HadSST folks sure aren’t going to be happy about this. As we just learned from RealClimate:
    “One odd feature of the HadSST2 collation was that the temperature impact of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption – which is very clear in the land measurements – didn’t really show up in the SST.

    Like I’ve been saying all along, when cloud suddenly increases, cutting off the ocean from incoming solar radiation, the ocean responds by going into heat release mode. That’s why stratospheric volcanos don’t cause global cooling immediately. The ocean acts to smooth out the drop in insolation. But that means the ocean loses heat content, and the cold winters follow a few years later.
    That’s why the increase in cloudiness after 1998 measured by project Earthshine didn’t hit us until 2007 when we got a big La Nina. The climatic reaction lags by around the length of the solar cycle.

  36. Interstellar Bill says:
    July 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm
    “Unfortunately, a huge volcanic input to the stratosphere would give the Warmistas a decades-long excuse for the absence of any warming. Much better that the impending Solar Minimum get to do all the cooling by itself, thereby firmly destroying AGW, whereas a volcano totally lets them off the hook.”
    It does not let them off the hook. They will undoubtedly try to use it as you say but at some point it is part and parcel of what is wrong with their CO2 theory. The bottom line is that CO2 would be more important to the climate (not as important as they have put into their models, of course) if nothing else was going on, but other variables are ALWAYS going about their business of varying. Solar radiation, ocean currents, volcanic eruptions, etc, etc, all contribute to the climate in unpredictable ways which is the proof that their AGW model is a lie. It’s like the advertising people who tell you that when your sales don’t improve they would have been worse if you had not advertised. Or the politicians that tell you that though unemployment is worse it would have been even more worse if they had not pissed billions of $$ away giving handouts to their friends.

  37. tallbloke:
    The climate reaction indeed does lag by about the length of a solar cycle- 11 years. There is a close link between decadal (10 year) SOI values, and climate with a lag of about 11 years. Will post soon.
    Ken

  38. I don’t see any observed link between tropospheric areosol only spike trends and global surface temperature spike trends. Whereas cooling is defintely seen with significant increases in stratospheric areosol opical thickness. The graphs below corrects global temperatures with SAOT and the results are shown.
    http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/4660/had3vsaotadj1900.png
    Since 1900 and the changes just can’t remove anywhere near the cooling during 1940’s and 1970’s to even just make it flat.
    http://img825.imageshack.us/img825/5816/had3vsaotadj1979.png
    Since 1979 the adjustments for statopheric areosol optical thickness changes doesn’t even come close to prevent the pause in recent years.

  39. Huh? says:
    July 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm
    Why don’t we all just agree that AGW is REAL but instead of prevention let’s roll with Mitigation when/if ever it actually comes.

    And, Huh?, you have your basic vocab reversed. “Mitigation” means fixing the climate by cutting CO2, and is identical to “prevention”. “Adaptation” is the current correct word for coping with reality as it happens.

  40. Anthony;
    “significantly underestimated” significantly understates the size and impact of a factor of 10,000,000X to 100,000,000X.
    Such a change is almost not in the same universe.

  41. Tallbloke,
    When I get the time I’m going to visit your site and study up on your ideas. I share your idea that a volcanic eruption actually can cause a release of heat from the oceans. To me it seems like it is a mid-term event, after the short-term cooling.
    Both El Chiton and Pinatubo resulted in short-term cooling. I have a hunch that Pinatubo went off with perfect timing, repressing El Chiton’s mid-term warming. Because El Chiton’s mid-term warming could not happen, that inevitability was added to the Pinatubo mid-term warming. That might explain why the 1998 El Nino was so extraordinary. It combined the mid-term warming of two, big, tropical volcanoes.
    I am struggling with the mechanics that might explain this process. The short-term cooling seems easy to explain, but the mid-term warming isn’t. I’ve come across vague statements like, “Volcanoes stimulate El Ninos,” but I like to see it drawn out logically, as: Volcano #1 causes A action which causes reaction B which causes re-reaction C.” (I prefer the word “reaction” to the word “feedback.”) I hope I find some insights at your site.
    The real question is the long-term. The long-term is the most fun to try to figure out, but the truth is, “nobody really knows.”

  42. As has been pointed out, 8 orders of magnitude is 100,000,000 and sounds like a huge amount. But what was the original estimate of the particles in question? If it was 1 part in 10^-15 and is now estimated to be 1 part in 10^-7, of what significance is this? And if a volcano goes off now, how much is the expected cloud cover expected to increase with the new estimates? Will it be even 1% more?

  43. Perhaps they should also revisit the impact of human sulfur dioxide emissions, from that mid-century period when acid rain was the concern and the climate was cooler despite a solar grand maximum and increasing greenhouse gasses.

  44. Well, this is some good news. Now when will the people claiming only chlorine from human produced chemicals, especially the very dense and ultra-stable, non-reactive chlorofluorocarbons, ever makes its way up to the ozone layer (ahead of the far lighter pure and natural chlorine molecules) while chlorine from seawater evaporation, volcanoes and other sources “rains out” before reaching that altitude – admit that Strombolian type eruptions provide an express elevator ride to the upper atmosphere to all kinds of nasty things, including chlorine and compounds of it?

  45. I did some searching and found this:
    http://www.igsoc.org/annals.old/14/igs_annals_vol14_year1990_pg176-182.pdf
    Looking at the volcanic activity between 1930 and 1950, the temperatures in the arctic region would have been as warmer in the 1930s and 1940s than they are now.
    Greenland was warmer anyhow:
    “the warmest year in the extended Greenland temperature
    record is 1941, while the 1930s and 1940s are the warmest decades.”
    http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/greenland/vintheretal2006.pdf

  46. Wonder why icebergs in the Arctic are melting (causing the AGW believers to claim “global warming!!!”) while average global temperatures remain cooler since ’98?
    Underwater volcanoes.
    Increasing eruptions due to solar activity means more volcanoes erupting…both above and under water. Humans ‘aint got nothing to do with it.
    One day we will look back and WISH we had the ability to warm the climate through man-made activity…as the history of this planet shows that the norm is ICE AGE, and the inter-galcial periods are short, warm respites from the usual status of the climate.

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