Icelandic Volcano: A Precursor of Global Cooling?
Eyjafjallaj”okull”s ash plume (brown cloud) stretching from the U.K. (left) to Germany (right). Source: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team
The global warming enthusiasts are convinced that as humans inject more and more carbon dioxide into the air we will warm the atmosphere beyond recognition. But nature may be set to crush all of that talk.
A blast of arctic cold may soon encase the earth. On March 20th a volcano began erupting on the island of Iceland. The ash cloud from this volcano has forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights with some estimates putting the airlines’ losses at moe than $200 million dollars per day due to cancelled flights. A volcano erupting in Iceland is not an uncommon event. The island is one of the few spots where the mid-oceanic ridge rears up out of the water revealing its violent personality. And this volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, can act as a predictor of future much more explosive and consequential activity. It has only erupted three times since the 9th century. The last eruption was in the early 1820s. But what is alarming about this most recent eruption is that in the past it has been followed by a much larger eruption of the nearby Katla Volcano. Katla has blown its top many times on its own, usually every 60 to 80 years. The last time was 1918, so it may be due for another eruption. Magnus Tomi Gudmundson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland and an expert on volcanic ice eruptions recently said “There is an increased likelihood we’ll see a Katla eruption in the coming months or a year or two, but there’s no way that’s certain.” He also said “From records we know that every time Eyjafjallajokull has erupted Katla has also erupted.”
This is significant because these giant eruptions can change the Earth’s atmosphere for years. Mount Laki is another large volcano in Iceland that has a history of producing climate changing eruptions. In 1783, Laki erupted releasing vast rivers of lava. The explosive volcano also ejected a massive amount of volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide into the air. The eruption was so violent that the ash and sulfur dioxide were injected into the stratosphere some 8 miles up. This cloud was then swept around the world by the stratospheric winds. The result was a significant decrease in the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface for several years. That reduction in sunlight brought about bitter cold weather across the northern hemisphere. The winter of 1784 was one of the coldest ever seen in New England and in Europe. New Jersey was buried under feet of snow and the Mississippi river froze all the way down to New Orleans. Historical records show that similar conditions existed during the following winter.
There are other eruptions that have produced similar short-term climate consequences. Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted with cataclysmic force in April 1815. It was the largest volcanic eruption in over 1,600 years. It was also during a time of very low solar activity known as the “Dalton Minimum.” The following year was called “the year without a summer.” During early June of 1815, a foot of snow fell on Quebec City. In July and August, lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Frost killed crops across New England with resulting famine. During the brutal winter of 1816/17 the temperature fell to -32 in New York City.
Mount Pinatubo exploded in June of 1991 after four centuries of sleep. The resultant cloud of volcanic ash belched into the stratosphere pounded the global temperature down a full one degree Fahrenheit by 1993. Record snowfall buried southern New England during the winter of 1993/94. Those same records were shattered just two years later in the winter of 1995/96 from the effects of the reduced sunlight.
If Eyjafjallajokull induces an eruption of Katla, that event alone could force global temperatures down for 3 to 5 years. But there is much more at work here. We have just exited the longest and deepest solar minimum in nearly 100 years. During this minimum the sun had the greatest number of spotless days (days where there were no sunspots on the face of the sun) since the early 1800s. The solar cycle is usually about 11 years from minimum to minimum. This past cycle 23 lasted 12.7 years. The long length of a solar cycle has been shown to have significant climate significance. Australian solar researcher Dr. David Archibald has shown that for every one year increase in the solar cycle length there is a half degree Celsius drop in the global temperature in the next cycle. Using that relationship, we could expect a global temperature drop of one degree Fahrenheit by 2020. That would wipe out all of the global warming of the last 150 years!
That’s not all. There is a third player in this potential global temperature plunge. Since the Autumn of 2009, we have been under the influence of a moderately strong El Ni~no. El Ni~no is a warming of the water in the Pacific Ocean along the equator from South America to the international dateline. El Nino’s warm water adds vast amounts of heat and humidity to the atmosphere. The result is a warmer earth and greatly altered weather patterns around the world. The current El Ni~no is predicted to fade out this summer. Frequently, after an El Ni~no we see the development of La Ni~na, the colder sister of El Ni~no, with La Ni~na’s cooler waters along the equatorial Pacific acting to cool the earth.
If a La Nina develops this summer, this could be the third leg of a natural convergence of forces not seen since the early 1800s. The sun has experienced its longest and most pronounced solar minimum in nearly 100 years. Research indicates this deep, long minimum will be followed by at least 10 years of colder weather. Mount Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland has started erupting. History has shown that every time Mount Eyjafjallajokull erupts the nearby more powerful and explosive Katla follows. The vast volcanic cloud thrust into the stratosphere by this explosion partially blocks out the warming rays of the sun and causes global temperature to plummet. El Ni~no is frequently followed by La Ni~na. The current El Ni~no is forecast to be over this summer.
The stage could soon be set for a confluence of cold-inducing forces. A La Ni~na with its chilling waters, combined with the effects of a weaker sun, combined with a volcanic eruption in Iceland. If all, or just two, of these work together, the earth could plunge into a period of bitter cold. All eyes should be on Iceland to see if Katla awakens from its long sleep. If it does, talk of global warming will likely fade from the headlines.