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Volcanoes and climateThe evidence that volcanic eruptions affect climate is reviewed. Single explosive volcanic eruptions cool the surface by about 0.3 C and warm the stratosphere by several degrees. Although these changes are of small magnitude, there have been several years in which these hemispheric average temperature changes were accompanied by severely abnormal weather. An example is 1816, the "year without summer" which followed the 1815 eruption of Tambora. In addition to statistical correlations between volcanoes and climate, a good theoretical understanding exists. The magnitude of the climatic changes anticipated following volcanic explosions agrees well with the observations. Volcanoes affect climate because volcanic particles in the atmosphere upset the balance between solar energy absorbed by the Earth and infrared energy emitted by the Earth. These interactions can be observed. The most important ejecta from volcanoes is not volcanic ash but sulfur dioxide which converts into sulfuric acid droplets in the stratosphere. For an eruption with its explosive magnitude, Mount St. Helens injected surprisingly little sulfur into the stratosphere. The amount of sulfuric acid formed is much smaller than that observed following significant eruptions and is too small to create major climatic shifts. However, the Mount St. Helens eruption has provided an opportunity to measure many properties of volcanic debris not previously measured and has therefore been of significant value in improving our knowledge of the relations between volcanic activity and climate.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Toon, O. B.
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 11, 2013
Publication Date
October 1, 1982
Publication Information
Publication: NASA. Langley Research Center Atmospheric Effects and Potential Climatic Impact of the 1980 Eruptions of Mt. St. Helens
Subject Category
Meteorology And Climatology
Accession Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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