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Blowin' in the Wind, Issue #003 - Geological influences on meteorolgy January 31, 2004
January 31, 2004

Volcano eruptions can seriously change weather patterns

What happens when volcano eruptions send hot material floating into the atmosphere? Can that have an effect on our subsequent weather? Certainly if it goes high enough.

If it ascends less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) or so, the turbulent action and vertical motion in the lowest layer or the atmosphere causes it to shower out soon enough. People in regions near the volcano will likely notice increased rainfall (etc), as I recall in 1980 living northeast of Mt. St. Helens after the eruption. The drought we were suffering suffered an eruption interruption, so to speak.

No problem, then

The problems start when a major volcano eruption spews ash or dust into the stratosphere, above 10 km. There is very little vertical motion up there and the contents may remain trapped in the layer for years. If this stuff is at all opaque, incoming sunlight can be reflected outward, and a trend offsetting global warming can be established.

Maybe a good thing if mild, but can be quite severe. This happened less than 200 years ago. Several volcanoes erupted in a few years and the matter built up enough to cause the year 1816 to become known as "the year without a summer", with unseasonal snowfalls throughout the year.

There were similar but less severe effects resulting from the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. This was less severe partly because it occurred during an el nino, so it was barely noticed.


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