So far, Icelandic volcano isn't likely to cause a cooler summer


It may have succeeded at stranding Cory in the U.S., stranding Lisa in London and producing some beautiful sunsets (not to mention forcing John Cleese to pay for the world's most expensive taxi ride), but Mt. Eyjafjallajokull (say it 10x fast) isn't shaping up to drastically alter temperatures this year. At least, not so far, according to Alan Robock, professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers.

Robock told Climate Central's Andrew Freedman on Thursday that the output of Mt. Eyjafjallajokull hasn't put enough sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to create the sort of "Two-thousand-and-froze-to-death" conditions some have feared.

Sulfur dioxide particles from volcanoes can temporarily cool the planet by reflecting solar radiation back out into space, effectively limiting the amount of warmth that reaches Earth's surface. Big eruptions—including some in Iceland—have led to short-term cooler temperatures in the past, and it's possible that, if the eruption lasts long enough, Mt. Eyjafjallajokull could as well. But there's another factor working in favor of a comfy summer, Robock said.

The volcano's climate impacts may also be limited by its high latitude location, since the air circulation in the upper atmosphere in the high latitudes tends to be more efficient at getting rid of volcanic material, compared to lower latitudes where sulfur dioxide particles from volcanoes can linger for years.

Beautiful Eyjafjallajokull sunset shot courtesy Flick user Danny Mekic, via CC


  1. In b4 climate change is a hoax…

    My understanding of climatology is limited (and out of date), but if I remember correctly volcanic activity only affects global temperatures if it is near the equator. The example I remember is Mt. St. Helens, which didn’t even cause a hiccough in global climate, while the four examples they give of climate-affecting volcanoes are both near the equator. Agung is in Bali, Indonesia, Fuego is in Guatemala, Chichon is in far southern Mexico, and of course Pinatubo is in the Phillipines. All of those locations are within 2000 miles of the equator.

    1. nahh.. it depends on how much gets spewed out, and if there’s a lot of ash (like in this eruption) how much the ash spreads.

      As we’ve already seen the ash from this one has gone pretty far, and high. Ash has been detected above 30.000 feet, which means it has probably penetrated the jetstream (relatively stable, high speed wind current which circumnavigates the globe and resides mostly around between around 27.000 and 35.000feet).
      This is already big enough to affect SOME change in climate, exactly which change, and the scope (local/global) is hard to predict as it depends on too many factors.

      The quote you give is only partly correct due to the proximity of Iceland to this Jetstream phenomenon. The large water mass around Iceland could also have limited the damage somewhat, but unluckily we’ve seen perfect conditions for spreading ash.

    2. That sounds right, since the sun’s rays are less intense in polar regions so even without atmospheric effects, the total heat reflected due to volcanism would be less up at the poles.

  2. Say Eyjafjallajökull 10x fast?


    But I cheat by being Icelandic ;)

    Now, saying Katla 3x may be like saying Candyman. Might cause “the big one” to erupt.

    Anyways, latest news from the Icelandic geological survey is that there is some slowdown in the eruption, they’re not sure whether it’s winding down or not, may be just a minor lull.
    The wind forecast is winds from the west for the next 4-5 days, and even if the eruption ends today (unlikely) it is likely that air travel would still be affected until Monday, at least, due to fine particles at high altitudes.

  3. Jökull means glacier, fjalla, or fjäll is the nordic word for an arctic mountain, Eyja means islands (the Vestmannaeyjar). So mount islandsmountainglacier is a tautology.

  4. Interesting. I work for a company that is all about remote collaboration, and we thought we had a good case for out products with that Swine Flu stuff.. this is good for us.

  5. “Getting rid of” volcanic ash to where, Prof. Robock?

    To the ground. As in, generally settling slowly, getting rained out, etc. A few really really really small particles might possibly even get ejected into space by the random happenstance of brownian motion etc.

    Of course, all these quakes and volcanoes are proof of scientology. It’s xenu out to get us!

      1. On the ground it’s mostly just high silica dirt, with a percentage of carbon-silica compounds. The sulphur compounds become acid rain.

        It isn’t very interesting at all in most locations, on account of humans producing so much crap already. In the 70s we would never notice the effects. Now, with gasoline quality cleaned up slightly… we probably won’t significantly notice them either.

        Volcanos (especially icelandic ones) CAN produce mind-boggling amounts of crap, but this one isn’t. It’s just inconveniently placed.

  6. I think this is all a Google conspiracy to get us to use Cloud computing…
    Either that, or Icelandic revenge for us Europeans screwing the kronor.

    1. Heh. What’s the quip again? Bloody Icelanders, first they burn our money, now they send us the ashes. :)

      But seriously, it’s kinda interesting to a have a blue sky for two days and not to see any jet engine exhausts.

  7. This is what happens when a country bans strippers and exotic dancing. Iceland banned strippers, the volcano gods,who love exotic dancers, get angry and cause an eruption to show who’s boss.
    Iceland, bring back the strippers and put a stop to this craziness.

  8. The latitude is important for the climatic effects of volcanic eruptions, but it is only second-order compared to the quantity and altitude that the ash and sulphur is injected. The iceland plume is currently only reaching to the mid troposphere (5-10 km), where it should get removed on the order of a couple of weeks; if it went up into the stratosphere (above 10km), where there isn’t any mixing with the troposphere or rain formation to remove the particles, then it would last a lot longer and potentially have larger climatic effects.

    The reason why latitude is important is because of how the stratospheric circulation works. Basically, starting from the tropical stratosphere, air flows upwards in and polewards, so if you inject a bunch of sulphate into the tropical stratosphere it will then get entrained into the whole global system, whereas if you inject at high latitudes it will be a shorter-lived, more local response. There is actually a geoengineering scheme to try to take advantage of this (“the yarmulke method”) whereby aerosols would be injected into the polar stratosphere to have a regional cooling to keep the ice sheets from melting, while at the same time (hopefully) avoiding some of the unpleasant side effects of whole-earth geoengineering such as reduced rainfall.

    But the main thing to watch for in this case is whether the ash makes it to the stratosphere at all–right now it isn’t going that high but that could change…

    1. I guess that makes sense. Stratospheric sulphur aerosols would presumably have much higher mean residence times than trophospheric, considering the relative rate of precipitation.

      Also, I’m amused at whoever came up with the name “yarmulke method.”

  9. Some guy on TV news says Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” may depict aftermath of Krakatoa volcano, with rolling red-orange sky.

    1. Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa” discusses the sunset effect on Euro painters of the time. For me, the money quote from that book was how the sound of the Indonesian eruption was heard in London. That’s loud.

  10. <pedant>”Mt. Eyjafjallajokull” is redundant. Eyjafjallajökull is a compound word: Eyja is the name, fjall = mountain, jökull = glacier.</pedant>

  11. The other thing to consider is the role of humans. We’ve screwed up the climate here so badly that I don’t think a volcano of any size can counteract the warming we’ve caused.

    1. Oh please, what’s happening in Icland right now is a minor hiccup. The main effect is the disruption of Northern European Ait traffic. If it weren’t for many European politicians stranded, trying to get back from the US and trying to get to Poland, it would make even less news, as it’s not a vacation season.

      1. A minor hiccup then that concludes in half of Europe being without air services for several days already since half of the European airports are closed. It is predicted that it may continue for several more days – it depends on the wind direction.

        1. Yes, but that’s a side effect of human’s using fragile technology, affecting only this kind of tech. The other species are hardly affected at all.

          We had a very similar situation after September 9th, 2001, after all.

  12. I’m interested in the benefits of the air traffic shutdown, vis a vis reduced greenhouse gas emissions? For instance, this infographic comparing European aviation industry CO2 emissions v. Eyjafjallajoekull (est.) indicates that the volcano-driven shutdown is preventing more than 95% of normal jet-generated CO2.

    Of course, our cozy little atmospheric comforter is stuffed with more than CO2, and there will no doubt be a surge in jet emissions once traffic resumes. (As well as a surge in surface transport emissions from cars, trains, ferries, etc.) Anyone finding projections from climatologists/vulcanologists on the overall atmospheric impact (CO2, NOx, SO2, etc.) of this event?

  13. It’s hilarious now isn’t it, how more pollution in the atmosphere causes cooling.
    Those who’ve fallen for the trillion dollar new monetary fiat market NWO totalitarian control should be ashamed of themselves.
    No doubt, they are not, and denial, instead, rules them.
    It will be interesting and delightful fun to see how long they can remain there.

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