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Artificial volcanoes: a solution to global warming? 6 June 2008

Posted by admin in climate, current research, geoscience, volcanoes.
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An article in the latest Popular Mechanics ponders geoengineering solutions to ‘the potentially devastating consequences of climate change’: specifically, reproducing through artificial means the cooling effects of major volcanic eruptions, such as that of Pinatubo in 1991:

One popular geoengineering scenario is to create an artificial volcano. Thomas Wigley, an expert on climate change based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., has created computer simulations that replicate the 1991 ‘Mount Pinatubo effect’ — a temporary cooling period created by the launch of 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere.

Wigley proposes mimicking the natural process by injecting sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide into the same region, 60,000 to 70,000 ft. above the earth’s surface. The compound would react to form a cloud of sulfuric acid droplets that would in turn reflect sunlight and cool the globe. Exactly how the material would be delivered isn’t clear—cannons, balloons and high-flying military planes are some ‘highly speculative’ options, he says.

These ideas aren’t ‘popular’ with everyone, however. Alan Robock, a meteorologist at Rutgers University, suggests that such grandiose notions just serve to distract attention from humbler, readily-available but politically difficult remedies: ‘It takes political will to lower carbon dioxide emissions. There are plenty of solutions already available’. Furthermore, Robock points out, artificial volcanoes will be ‘very expensive and locally polluting’.

It’s only a matter of time before someone suggests combating global warming by moving planet Earth ‘a bit further away from the sun’.

Expert Solutions to Global Warming – Geoengineering as Way to Prevent Global WarmingPopular Mechanics, 5 June 2008

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Toba … at Olelog 20 May 2008

Posted by admin in blogs, climate, Indonesia, Toba.
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Inspired by the theme of the current Accretionary Wedge, which is ‘significant geological events’ (hosted at Harmonic Tremors), Ole Nielsen has written an interesting article about the supervolcanic eruption of Toba about 71,500 years ago, on the eminently reasonable grounds that ‘an event that nearly wiped out all human beings could be called significant’.

Toba – A Significant Geological Event

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‘1600 Eruption of Huaynaputina in Peru’ at Olelog 26 April 2008

Posted by admin in blogs, climate, eruptions, Huaynaputina, natural hazards, Peru, volcanology.
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Ole Nielsen’s always in-depth and fascinating Olelog (‘what on earth’) has an interesting post on the 1600 eruption of Huaynaputina in southern Peru:

On 19 February 1600 [Huaynaputina] exploded catastrophically, in the largest volcanic explosion in South America in historic times. The eruption caused substantial damage to the major cities of Arequipa and Moquengua. It blanketed nearby villages with glowing rock and ash, and killed some 1,500 people. The eruption is known to have put a large amount of sulphur into the atmosphere …

… and thereby hangs the tale, because the article goes on to discuss the effects of this eruption on global climate: cold winters, late harvests, famine. A new article by Ken Verosub and Jake Lippman, ‘The volcano that changed the world’, goes into it all in detail. It’s published in the AGU’s Eos newsletter, which is very much not open access. To find out more read Ole Nielsen’s post, which gives full references and provides links to further information.

Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program – summary information for Huaynaputina (1504-03=)

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NOVA Geoblog on the Antarctic subglacial volcano 24 January 2008

Posted by admin in Antarctica, blogs, climate, current research, volcanology.
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There’s an excellent post at NOVA Geoblog on the Antarctica subglacial volcano: ‘New below-ice volcano in Antarctica’. Have a good look around, while you’re there: NOVA Geoblog, put together by Callan Bentley at Northern Virginia Community College, is one of the best geoscience blogs around.

(For background on the Antarctica subglacial volcano see the earlier posts here.)

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That Antarctic volcano again 22 January 2008

Posted by admin in Antarctica, climate, current research, volcanology.
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The new British study arguing that a subglacial volcanic eruption occurred in Antarctica two millennia or so ago and that the volcano responsible may still be active beneath the ice sheet has made a big splash in the world’s media, partly because of the ‘global warming’ aspect. The researchers, David Vaughan and Hugh Corr of the British Antarctic Survey were very careful in what they said about the relationship between subglacial volcanism and the overall melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, as National Geographic reports:

‘The presence of the volcano adds [to] the complexity of an issue that I thought we were getting on top of,’ Vaughan said. Western Antarctica ‘is losing ice to the oceans, and the volcano could be contributing to that effect.’ But it can only be responsible for a fraction of that change, he added, since the volcano only affects the nearby Pine Island Glacier. Global warming is still the main culprit behind the overall loss of ice from western Antarctica, researchers say.

Last month another study suggested that a ‘hot spot’ beneath north-eastern Greenland was contributing to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. It seems unlikely that atmospheric global warming will be toppled from its place as the primary explanatory paradigm for the melting of the world’s ice sheets, but the mechanisms at work are more complex than perhaps has hitherto been suspected. The role of geological heating beneath the polar icecaps is clearly something that has to be investigated in more detail.

A round-up of news stories on the Antarctic eruption is given below.

Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program – summary information for the Hudson Mountains (1900-028)
Antarctica Volcanoes and Volcanics – information from the United States Geological Survey

First evidence of under-ice volcanic eruption in Antarctica – British Antarctic Survey press release, 20 January 2008
Under-ice volcano eruption spewed ice over Antarctica – National Geographic News, 21 January 2008
First evidence of under-ice volcanic eruption in Antarctica – ScienceDaily, 21 January 2008
Scientists find active volcano in AntarcticaNew York Times, 21 January 2008

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Early Martian oceans: the volcanic connection 21 December 2007

Posted by admin in climate, Mars, solar system.
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A study to be published in Science magazine for 21 December 2007 argues that volcanically-produced sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide may have kept Mars warm enough to sustain liquid water oceans during the early history of the red planet, around 4 billion years ago.

The paper, ‘A sulfur dioxide climate feedback on early Mars’, by Itay Halevy (Harvard University), Maria T. Zuber (MIT) and Daniel P. Schrag (Harvard University), is in Science, vol. 318, no. 5858, pp. 1903-1907. Abstract:

Ancient Mars had liquid water on its surface and a CO2-rich atmosphere. Despite the implication that massive carbonate deposits should have formed, these have not been detected. On the basis of fundamental chemical and physical principles, we propose that climatic conditions enabling the existence of liquid water were maintained by appreciable atmospheric concentrations of volcanically degassed SO2 and H2S. The geochemistry resulting from equilibration of this atmosphere with the hydrological cycle is shown to inhibit the formation of carbonates. We propose an early martian climate feedback involving SO2, much like that maintained by CO2 on Earth.

Related articles
Fire and brimstone helped form Mars Oceans – LiveScience (20 December 2007)
Sulfur dioxide kept ancient Mars ocean flowing – National Geographic News (20 December 2007)
Sulfur dioxide may have helped maintain a warm early Mars – ScienceDaily (20 December 2007)
Greenhouse clue to water on Mars – BBC News (20 December 2007)

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