The term “volcanic eruption” typically conjures up images of smoke, lava, explosions and heat. There’s really nothing cool about a volcanic eruption, right? Wrong: Volcanoes actually play a pretty pivotal role in cooling the earth, and according to the Knowridge Science Report, that process may be in danger as a result of climate change.
So how exactly do volcanoes cool the earth?
We’re glad you asked. When a volcano erupts with enough force, it spews sulfur gasses high into the atmosphere – about 10 to 15 kilometres above the earth’s surface – to a layer known as the stratosphere. According to the Knowridge Science Report, it is in the stratosphere that gasses react with water to “form aerosol particles that linger in the stratosphere for one or two years, reflecting sunlight and heat from the sun, and cooling the planet.” While impactful, eruptions of this magnitude are not common. In fact, only three to five eruptions reach the stratosphere each year.
The impact of climate change
Research has shown that the earth’s warming causes the lower layers of the atmosphere to expand, which in turn makes it much harder for volcanic gasses to reach the stratosphere.
Thomas Aubry, a PhD student studying climate and volcanoes, states that “Volcanic eruptions tend to counteract global warming,” however, as earth’s warming trends continue, the atmosphere changes and fewer eruptions occur. According to Aubry, fewer eruptions mean less reflection of the sun’s radiation, making it “harder for the volcanic gasses to reach high enough into [the] atmosphere to help cool the planet.”
While the earth continues to warm, Aubry notes that scientists have observed a “slight decline in the rate of global warming over the last 10 to 15 years.” Previous studies attribute this trend at least in part to the number of large eruptions over the past decade, which have sent sulphur gasses “high up into the stratosphere.”
In a recent study, Aubry and other researchers found that the amount of volcanic sulphur gasses in the stratosphere will “decrease anywhere from two to twelve per cent in the next 100 years.” By the end of the 22nd and 23rd centuries, they predict 12 to 25 per cent less sulphur gas in the stratosphere.
Doing our part with clean energy
While the future impact of climate change as it relates to volcanoes’ cooling effect remains to be seen, these findings highlight the importance of clean energy in combatting climate change. Bulk Energy is committed to following the latest climate change research in order to deliver clean energy solutions that help our customers reduce their carbon footprints.
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