When the ice melts, the Earth spews fire: Researchers discover a link between climate and volcanic eruptions

Dec 19, 2012
The Villarica volcanoe in Chile. Credit: M. Nicolai, GEOMAR

It has long been known that volcanic activity can cause short-term variations in climate. Now, researchers at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (Germany), together with colleagues from Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) have found evidence that the reverse process also occurs: Climate affects volcanic activity. Their study is now online in the international journal Geology.

In 1991, it was a disaster for the villages nearby the erupting Philippine volcano Pinatubo. But the effects were felt even as far away as Europe. The volcano threw up many tons of ash and other particles into the atmosphere causing less sunlight than usual to reach the Earth's surface. For the first few years after the eruption, dropped by half a degree. In general, volcanic eruptions can have a strong short-term impact on climate. Conversely, the idea that climate may also affect volcanic eruptions on a global scale and over long periods of time is completely new. Researchers at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Kiel (Germany) and Harvard University in Massachusetts (USA) have now found strong evidence for this relationship from major volcanic eruptions around the Pacific Ocean over the past 1 million years. They have presented their results in the latest issue of the international journal Geology.

Ash layers in cores from the Pacific seafloor. Credit: S. Kutterolf, GEOMAR

The basic evidence for the discovery came from the work of the Collaborative Research Centre "Fluids and Volatiles in (SFB 574). For more than ten years the project has been extensively exploring volcanoes of Central America. "Among others pieces of evidence, we have observations of ash layers in the and have reconstructed the history of for the past 460,000 years," says GEOMAR Dr Steffen Kutterolf, who has been with SFB 574 since its founding. Particular patterns started to appear. "There were periods when we found significantly more large eruptions than in others" says Kutterolf, the lead author of the Geology article.

After comparing these patterns with the climate history, there was an amazing match. The periods of high followed fast, global temperature increases and associated rapid ice melting. To expand the scope of the discoveries, Dr Kutterolf and his colleagues studied other cores from the entire Pacific region. These cores had been collected as part of the International Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and its predecessor programmes. They record more than a million years of the Earth's history. "In fact, we found the same pattern from these cores as in Central America" says geophysicist Dr Marion Jegen from GEOMAR, who also participated in the recent study.

Together with colleagues at Harvard University, the geologists and geophysicists searched for a possible explanation. They found it with the help of geological computer models. "In times of global warming, the glaciers are melting on the continents relatively quickly. At the same time the sea level rises. The weight on the continents decreases, while the weight on the oceanic tectonic plates increases. Thus, the stress changes within in the earth to open more routes for ascending magma" says Dr Jegen.

The rate of global cooling at the end of the warm phases is much slower, so there are less dramatic stress changes during these times. "If you follow the natural climate cycles, we are currently at the end of a really warm phase. Therefore, things are volcanically quieter now. The impact from man-made warming is still unclear based on our current understanding" says Dr Kutterolf. The next step is to investigate shorter-term historical variations to better understand implications for the present day.

Explore further: NASA radar system surveys Napa Valley quake area

More information: Kutterolf, S., M. Jegen, J. X. Mitrovica, T. Kwasnitschka, A. Freundt, P. J. Huybers (2012): A detection of Milankovitch frequencies in global volcanic activity. Geology, G33419.1, dx.doi.org/10.1130/G33419.1

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Lurker2358
4 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2012
The weight on the continents decreases, while the weight on the oceanic tectonic plates increases. Thus, the stress changes within in the earth to open more routes for ascending magma" says Dr Jegen.


This has already been reasoned about before by geologists, and if you think about it a bit you'll see it must be true to at least some extent.

The idea is that as ice melts from Greenland and Iceland, the pressure on the continental plate will decrease, and this will be like pulling the lid off a pressure cooker. The Rift between the plates which produced Iceland would then open up and release magma, and possibly CO2 and SO2, which are opposing forces in terms of greenhouse and anti-greenhouse effects.
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (7) Dec 19, 2012
Could the migration of Earth magnetic poles be explained with melting ice? I don't think so. This link may be deeper and of cosmological origin, which would reverse its causality arrow. For example I presume, that the dense cloud of antimatter may cause the heating of Earth crust and oceans with decay of radioactive elements (potassium-40), which would lead into both increased volcanic activity, both climate changes.
GSwift7
3.1 / 5 (7) Dec 19, 2012
This has already been reasoned about before by geologists, and if you think about it a bit you'll see it must be true to at least some extent


It's a rare instance when I agree with you, but I was thinking the same thing. Isostatic rebound is not a new idea. There are a number of stress cracks in the central US, such as the fault near St Louis, that are caused by this.

The idea is that as ice melts from Greenland and Iceland, the pressure on the continental plate will decrease, and this will be like pulling the lid off a pressure cooker


Actually that's not exactly right. If you take a thick slab of cookie dough or clay and bend it gently, cracks will form on the convex side. This is what opens lava pathways as the continental plates expand.

That also explains why the reverse is not true as the ice forms at the start of an ice age. That should close up previous cracks.

I'm assuming the writer wasn't closely involved in the work.
GSwift7
3.8 / 5 (10) Dec 19, 2012
Could the migration of Earth magnetic poles be explained with melting ice? I don't think so. This link may be deeper and of cosmological origin


Valeria, did you take a double dose of your meds, or did you forget to take them today?

WTF are you talking about?

The magnetic field? Huh? What?

They aren't looking for the cause of the ice age here. But, even if that's what we were talking about, you are making no sense at all.
Jonseer
4.4 / 5 (7) Dec 19, 2012
Could the migration of Earth magnetic poles be explained with melting ice? I don't think so. This link may be deeper and of cosmological origin


Valeria, did you take a double dose of your meds, or did you forget to take them today?

WTF are you talking about?

The magnetic field? Huh? What?

They aren't looking for the cause of the ice age here. But, even if that's what we were talking about, you are making no sense at all.


Well it looks like someone hasn't kept up with the latest transmorphication studies of the tachionical passage of galactic nanowaves that are now assumed to fuel magnetic field reversal on the equator. LOL
jonnyboy
1 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2012
duh
rwinners
2.5 / 5 (2) Dec 19, 2012
Everything is linked.
Maggnus
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 20, 2012
Well it looks like someone hasn't kept up with the latest transmorphication studies of the tachionical passage of galactic nanowaves that are now assumed to fuel magnetic field reversal on the equator. LOL


LOL!
cantdrive85
1.9 / 5 (9) Dec 20, 2012
This is an expected relationship when one considers the Sun is largely responsible for both.

http://www.thunde...noes.htm

http://www.thunde...ther.htm

http://www.thunde...ther.htm

Then again, maybe it's just easier to ignore the obvious and be "amazed" at every new finding.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (3) Dec 20, 2012
Everything is linked.
Well, exactly - the isostatic rebound can explain some phenomena, but not all of them. The contemporary science is picky and it chooses the more deterministic, bilateral connections first, because they're easier to analyze and model with low-dimensional math. But these bilateral connections don't tell us very much about the underlying mechanisms of the composite events.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (6) Dec 20, 2012
Well it looks like someone hasn't kept up with the latest transmorphication studies of the tachionical passage of galactic nanowaves that are now assumed to fuel magnetic field reversal on the equator. LOL


OMG, I totally missed that! That totally explains the Vision I had last week. I must have accidentally tapped into the fields and crossed the streams, which as anyone knows, causes Birkland standing waves in the vortex. That totally proves GR is wrong. I knew it!!
Ben D
1 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2012
"The rate of global cooling at the end of the warm phases is much slower, so there are less dramatic stress changes during these times. "If you follow the natural climate cycles, we are currently at the end of a really warm phase. Therefore, things are volcanically quieter now."

So we are at the end of a global warming phase, we may need to use all the greenhouse gas can we release into the atmosphere to mitigate against the cooling.
Howhot
5 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2012
Follow the natural climate cycles and it becomes obvious we are really at the end of the phase. Current weather patterns seem to dictate a phase shift in natural climate. We all need to know about the phase. We know AGW is the true phase, ie the truth.
Deniers, read between my fingers.

Anda
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2012
GAIA...