Triggered: A quick look into the growing connection between volcanoes and climate change

A volcano in the lava fields of Holuhraun, Iceland, north of the Vatnajökull ice cap, erupts in 2015.
Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

The global increase in climate temperatures will closely relate to the predicted increase in volcanic activity throughout the world. This increase in temperatures will have severe effects on geophysical systems within our planet.

The Anthropocene, the period in Earth’s history during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, is expected to experience a steady surge of atmospheric temperature increases of around 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit due to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, as shown by the most recent IPCC report, which was released in October 2018.

In a study published in November 2017 by Graeme T. Swindles, an associate professor of Earth system dynamics at the University of Leeds, the correlation between climate fluctuations and Icelandic volcanic activity over the last five-thousand years were taken into examination. Alongside his team, Swindle discovered that the amount of volcanic activity decreased as temperatures cooled and the ice cover expanded.

One of the major consequences of the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures is the increasingly alarming melting rate of glaciers. PhD candidate Adven Masih of Ural Federal University noticed a rise in this melting rate in research conducted for the IOP Conference Series this past year. Masih warns, “The melting of glaciers driven by global warming warns us of a seismically turbulent future. When glaciers melt, the massive weight on the Earth’s crust reduces and the crust bounces back in what scientists call an “isostatic rebound”.

The process can reactivate faults and lift pressure on magma chambers that feed volcanoes, hence increases seismic activity. The paper discusses the correlation between rise in temperature due to global warming and earthquake frequency using Pearson’s correlation coefficient and regression analysis based on a case study from Alaska.” This corresponds with Swindle’s findings; a key conclusion of this study was that as the atmosphere increased and the glaciers melted, Iceland’s volcanoes faced larger and more frequent eruptions.

The rise in volcanic activity begins a feedback loop in which climate temperatures rise as a result. This connection is often overlooked. Volcanic eruptions bring forth greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide. Although global levels of these greenhouse gases aren’t significantly altered by a singular eruption, a sudden influx of volcanic and seismic activity are a potential disruption to the already-growing levels of carbon dioxide.

Olga Rozmarynowska

Olga Rozmarynowska is a junior transfer from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is double-majoring in Classical Civilizations and Global Environmental Politics, alongside a minor in Journalism. She loves to study volcanoes as well as water sustainability and food security. Olga is a member of the Cal Band, where she marches the mellophone. In her free time, she can be found backpacking, building yachts at the Berkeley Marine Center, and being an idiot for attention. Olga Rozmarynowska covers geology.

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