Scientists have long known that large volcanic explosions can affect the weather by spewing particles that block solar energy and cool the air.
Some suspect that extended "volcanic winters" from gigantic eruptions helped kill off dinosaurs and Neanderthals.
In the summer following Indonesia's 1815 Tambora eruption, frost wrecked crops as far away as New England, and the 1991 blowout of the Philippines' Mount Pinatubo lowered average global temperatures by 0.7 degrees F--enough to mask the effects of greenhouse gases for a year or so.
Now, in research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, scientists have discovered that eruptions also affect rainfall over the Asian monsoon region, where seasonal storms water crops for nearly half of Earth's population.Tree-ring researchers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) showed that big eruptions tend to dry up much of Central Asia, but bring more rain to southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar--the opposite of what many climate models predict.
The growth rings of some tree species can be correlated with rainfall. LDEO's Tree Ring Lab used tree rings from some 300 sites across Asia to measure the effects of 54 volcanic eruptions going back about 800 years.
The data came from LDEO's new 1,000-year tree-ring atlas of Asian weather, which has produced evidence of long, devastating droughts.
"We might think of the solid Earth and the atmosphere as two different things, but everything in the system is interconnected," said Kevin Anchukaitis, the paper's lead author. "Volcanoes can be important players in climate over time."
Large explosive eruptions send up sulfur compounds that turn into tiny sulfate particles high in the atmosphere, where they deflect solar radiation.
The resulting cooling on Earth's surface can last for months or years.
Not all eruptions have that effect, however. For instance, the continuing eruption of Indonesia's Merapi this fall has killed dozens, but this latest episode is probably not big enough by itself to effect large-scale weather changes, scientists believe.
As for rainfall, in the simplest models, lowered temperatures decrease evaporation of water from the surface to the air. Less water vapor translates to less rain.
But matters are greatly complicated by atmospheric circulation patterns, cyclic changes in temperatures over the oceans, and the shapes of land masses.
Until now, most climate models incorporating changes in the sun and the atmosphere have predicted that volcanic explosions would disrupt the monsoon by bringing less rain to southeast Asia--but the researchers found the opposite.
They studied several eruptions, including one in 1258 from an unknown tropical site, thought to be the largest of the last millennium; the 1600-1601 eruption of Peru's Huaynaputina; Tambora in 1815; the 1883 explosion of Indonesia's Krakatau; Mexico's El Chichón in 1982; and Pinatubo.
Tree rings showed that huge swaths of southern China, Mongolia and surrounding areas consistently dried up in the year or two following big events, while mainland southeast Asia received increased rain.
The researchers believe there are many possible factors involved.
"The data only recently became available to test the models," said Rosanne D'Arrigo, one of the paper's co-authors. "There's a lot of work to be done to understand how all these different forces interact."
In some episodes pinpointed by the study, it appears that strong cycles of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which drives temperatures over the Pacific and Indian Oceans and is thought to strongly affect the Asian monsoon, might have counteracted eruptions, lessening their drying or moistening effects. p>
But it could work the other way, too, said Anchukaitis; if atmospheric dynamics and volcanic eruptions come together with the right timing, they could reinforce one another--with drastic results.
"Then you get flooding or drought, and neither flooding nor drought is good for the people living in those regions," he said.
Ultimately, said Anchukaitis, such studies should help scientists refine models of how natural and man-made forces might act together to shift weather patterns--a vital question for all areas of the world.
Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation
Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences