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According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, a gigantic volcanic eruption could occur as a result of global warming. Taking what information is known from the huge Mt. Tambora eruption in 1815, experts think they have nailed down what caused it and how it looks like the current state of our environment is heading in the same disastrous direction.
While the water on a hot summer day at the beach may be cooler than the air, the temperature of the water drops much more gradually than that of the air when the sun is setting. The ocean plays a similar role with climate, protecting the earth’s temperatures from large climate swings. However, climate change is interfering with this process, which could result in one of the most dangerous types of climate swings: powerful volcanic eruptions.
Extremely strong eruptions can cool the entire planet by a couple degrees for a year or two. How can one eruption affect the entire earth? If a volcano is powerful enough, it can reflect sunlight away from the Earth by filling the top layer of the atmosphere with aerosols, tiny particles that grow clouds around them. This phenomenon happened in 1816 known as “the year without a summer” following the massive eruption in 1815.
North America and Europe experienced an unusually cold and wet summer, affecting agriculture, causing food shortages and high prices. This missing summer led to the potato blight in Ireland and some scholars even say it inspired the writing of Frankenstein.
The new study modeled what happened in 1815 and the years following. They discovered that the oceans moderated how the eruption influenced climate by reducing the scale of the cooling but making it last longer. The scientists behind the study then looked at what would happen if a similar eruption occurs in 2085.
Right now, about 90 percent of the extra heat on earth caused by global warming is being absorbed by the oceans. While this process hasn’t caused large scale, negative repercussions yet, the oceans can’t keep warming up forever. The heat has started to have an overall effect on the ocean’s structure, decreasing the amount of mixing between different depths. The scientists found that this reduction of mixing could result in the oceans not being able to modulate the climate if a Tambora-scale eruption were to happen again.
In fact, such a large-scale eruption in the future could have even worse implications to the earth than that of “the year without a summer” in 1816.