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900 Pinatubos don’t make an ice age – research 23 February 2010

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Environmental Research Web Blog on some research published in J. Geophys. R. last year:

Robock and colleagues injected 300 ‘Pinatubos’ of SO2 into the baseline run of their models, but also tried amounts as great as 900 Pinatubos. With a dynamic vegetation module, they explored the feedback on global temperatures of widespread death of vegetation due to the volcanic cooling. The feedback was not very impressive. Precipitation dropped markedly, but cooling reached about 10 degrees at most, and recovery was nearly complete after about a decade.

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Thanks a bunch, Alun 23 February 2010

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‘I wouldn’t mind a big volcanic eruption – that would give us a two year respite from global warming and might just help us get to action which the Copenhagen summit didn’t get to.’

That’s Alun Anderson, former editor of New Scientist and author of After the Ice: Life, Death and Geopolitics in the New Arctic (2009), a book that has a picture of a polar bear on the front. He is interviewed in The Ecologist, and can be seen in the accompanying illustration standing on top of a mountain in Greenland, far above the level of common humanity.

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Volcanoes to blame for Cretaceous ocean anoxic event 11 February 2010

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Research published in a letter in Nature Geoscience: around 94.5 million years ago volcanism released large volumes of sulphur into the atmosphere which triggered huge phytoplankton blooms, which in turn deprived the oceans of oxygen and triggered extensive marine extinctions. The abstract tells it like this:

During the Cretaceous period (~145–65 million years ago), there were several periods of global ocean anoxia, each lasting less than one million years. These events, known as ocean anoxic events, were marked by significant increases in organic carbon burial, and are generally attributed to increased primary productivity in surface waters. The details underpinning the initiation, maintenance and termination of these events, however, remain equivocal. Here we present sulphur isotope data spanning the Ocean Anoxic Event 2 (about 94.5 million years ago) from sedimentary rocks in Colorado that were formed in the Western Interior Seaway; this seaway ran north–south, splitting North America during the Cretaceous. Sulphate levels increased rapidly from relatively low background levels at the onset of the event, most likely from the release of sulphur by massive volcanism, and fell during the anoxic event. We infer that the input of sulphate facilitated increased carbon remineralization, which enhanced nutrient recycling and increased global primary productivity, eventually resulting in widespread ocean anoxia. Our scenario indicates that Ocean Anoxic Event 2 may have persisted until sulphate levels were stabilized by the formation and burial of the sulphur mineral pyrite, which returned primary productivity to background levels. We suggest that fluctuations in sulphate levels may have regulated the marine carbon cycle during past periods of low oceanic sulphate concentration.

And that is why geoengineering the climate with artificial volcanoes is a really bad idea: ‘Like the mid-Cretaceous ocean, most modern lakes are poor in sulphate, so it’s possible that geoengineering the climate could trigger blooms and ultimately anoxia in some lakes’ says researcher Matthew Hurtgen of Northwestern University. ‘We hack the climate at our peril’, warns New Scientist. ‘Volcanoes spewed so much sulphate into the atmosphere 94 million years ago that the oceans were starved of oxygen and 27 per cent of marine genera went extinct. Geoengineering our climate could inflict a similar fate on some lakes’. Such is the climate change dilemma: in trying to avoid (for example) climate-induced tectonic-volcanic geo-apocalyptic mega-mayhem we may cause geoengineering-induced volcanic-toxic extinction-anoxic mega-mayhem instead. Agh.

  • Derek D. Adams, Matthew T. Hurtgen & Bradley B. Sageman, ‘Volcanic triggering of a biogeochemical cascade during Oceanic Anoxic Event 2’, Nature Geoscience, 31 January 2010 [doi:10.1038/ngeo743]. Abstract.

(There’s more on volcanism triggering the Cretaceous anoxic events in Nature, 17 July 2008, and Ole Nielsen has a great blog post: Late Cretaceous Anoxic Event.)

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A geologist looks at geoengineering 15 September 2009

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Geoengineering our way out of climate catastrophe is flavour of the month in certain quarters: mechanical trees, giant sunshades, artificial volcanoes, etc.

Chris Rowan of Highly Allocthonous is not convinced about all this, and has an article about geoengineering at Seed Magazine explaining why. Related posts at Highly Allocthonous here and here.

Business as abnormalSeed Magazine, 14 September 2009

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Climate change: scientists warn of tectonic-volcanic geo-apocalyptic mega-mayhem 6 September 2009

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John Martin, 'The Great Day of His Wrath' (1853)
Above: John Martin’s ‘The Great Day of His Wrath’ (1853). An understatement, if anything.

University College London will be hosting a colloquium on ‘Climate Forcing of Geological Hazards’ from 15-17 September, which ‘will address relationships between past and contemporary climate change and the triggering of hazardous geological and geomorphological phenomena’. We’re looking at a future of earthquakes, avalanches, tsunamis, collapsing mountains and more volcanic eruptions, apparently. The Guardian has a report on the event today, under the headline ‘Global warming threatens Earth with wave of natural disasters’:

Melting glaciers will set off avalanches, floods and mud flows in the Alps and other mountain ranges; torrential rainfall in the UK is likely to cause widespread erosion; while disappearing Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets threaten to let loose underwater landslides, triggering tsunamis that could even strike the seas around Britain. At the same time the disappearance of ice caps will change the pressures acting on the Earth’s crust and set off volcanic eruptions across the globe.

The report quotes the reliably apocalyptic head of UCL’s Benfield Hazard Research Centre, Professor Bill McGuire: ‘Not only are the oceans and atmosphere conspiring against us, bringing baking temperatures, more powerful storms and floods, but the crust beneath our feet seems likely to join in too’.

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Averting climate doom with artificial volcanoes 30 August 2009

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Artificial volcano at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. Flickr image from temptingmamma's photostream, Creative Commons licensed.

Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth reports The Times today: yes, it’s artificial volcanoes again. The idea is to reproduce the sulphur-propagating aspects of volcanic eruptions in order to cool the planet:

The Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change.

The society will this week call for a global programme of studies into geo-engineering — the manipulation of the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming — as the world struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It will suggest in a report that pouring sulphur-based particles into the upper atmosphere could be one of the few options available to humanity to keep the world cool.

See also: mechanical trees, slimy buildings, white paint on roofs, cloud-generating ships, artificial plankton blooms, giant space sunshield, wrapping Greenland in a blanket.

[Image of the artificial volcano at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, by temptingmama at Flickr, reproduced here under a Creative Commons license.]

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