Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

LSU professor uses volcanic emissions to study Earth's atmospheric past

17.06.2010
On March 20, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano woke from its nearly 200-year slumber to change the way the world viewed volcanoes forever. Bringing almost all transatlantic air travel to a halt for the first time in modern history, this volcano reminded humanity of the powers these forces of nature contain – and of our relative inability to understand them. Associate Professor Huiming Bao of LSU's Department of Geology & Geophysics has published research in the journal Nature about massive volcanic eruptions and their atmospheric consequences in the past in North America.

"Past volcanic eruptions have had significant impacts on the environment," said Bao. "We humans have witnessed the various impacts of volcanic eruptions like the 1991 Mount Pinatubo and the more recent Icelandic one. The physical aspect of the impacts such as explosion or ash plumes is often short-lived, but the chemical consequence of its emitted massive gases can have a long-lasting effect on global climate."

The paper, titled "Massive Volcanic SO2 Oxidation and Sulfate Aerosol Deposition in Cenozoic North America," represents research into the Earth's climactic past. Using computer models and geological data, Bao and his colleagues, Shocai Yu of the EPA and Daniel Tong of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, were able to simulate the sulfur gas oxidation chemistry and atmospheric condition of the northern high plains region of North America long before human activities began significantly impact the air quality. Yu and Tong contributed to the modeling aspect of the study. They used a state-of-the-art atmospheric sulfur chemistry and transport model to simulate the atmospheric conditions necessary for the observed sulfate isotope data preserved in rock records.

Bao and his colleagues discovered that many of the volcanic ash beds are rich in sulfate, the product of atmospheric oxidation of sulfur gases. Most importantly, these sulfates have distinct stale isotope signatures that can tell how they were formed in the atmosphere, particularly which oxidation pathways they went through. In order to explain their geological data, they did an extensive modeling test and found that it is imperative to have an initial alkaline cloudwater pH condition, which rarely exists in modern days.

According to Bao, the most important volcanic gas – as far as atmospheric implications go – is sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This gas is oxidized in the atmosphere, where it is turned into sulfate aerosol, which plays a very sensitive role in the rate and impact of climate change. When the sulfate aerosol is dense or long-lasting and the depositional condition is right, the sulfate aerosol can be preserved in rock records.

"These sulfate aerosol deposition events were so intense that the sulfate on the ground or small ponds reached saturation and gypsum mineral formed," Bao said. He pointed out that the closest analog event is perhaps the 1783 Laki eruptions of Iceland and the subsequent "dry fogs" in continental Europe. "That event devastated Iceland's cattle population. People with lung problems suffered the worst. In North America, the next year's winter was the longest and one of the coldest on record. The Mississippi River froze at New Orleans. The French Revolution in 1789 may have been triggered by the poverty and famine caused by the eruption."

These explosive eruptions are much more intense and sulfur rich than any human has ever experienced or recorded. But that doesn't mean that eruptions of such magnitude can't happen today.

"It is important to note that the volcanic eruptions we experienced in the past thousands of years are nothing compared to some of the eruptions occurred in the past 40 million years in western North America, either in the level of power or the amount of SO2 spewed," said Bao. "What we reported in our Nature paper is that there were many massive volcanic SO2 emissions and dense sulfate aerosol events in the northern High Plains of North America in the past. We show that in the past the sulfate aerosol formed in a very different way than today, indicating a difference in the past atmospheric condition or something peculiar with these explosive eruptions in the west."

NOTE: Bao is currently conducting fieldwork and will have intermittent access to communication through June.

More news and information can be found on LSU's home page at www.lsu.edu

Ashley Berthelot | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lsu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Turning the Climate Tide by 2020
29.06.2017 | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung

nachricht Predicting eruptions using satellites and math
28.06.2017 | Frontiers

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

High conductive foils enabling large area lighting

29.06.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Designed proteins to treat muscular dystrophy

29.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Climate Fluctuations & Non-equilibrium Statistical Mechanics: An Interdisciplinary Dialog

29.06.2017 | Seminars Workshops

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>