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Link found between global warming and increased volcanic activity


December 19, 2012

Researchers have discovered a strong historical link between global temperature increases and increases in volcanic activity (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers have discovered a strong historical link between global temperature increases and increases in volcanic activity (Photo: Shutterstock)

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It’s no secret that volcanic eruptions can cool the planet by spewing ash and droplets of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere that obscure the sun. Now researchers at Germany’s GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Harvard University have found evidence that suggest the reverse could also be true. The researchers have discovered a strong historical link between global temperature increases and increases in volcanic activity.

Using observations of ash layers in cores taken from the seafloor around the Pacific region, the researchers reconstructed the history of volcanic eruptions for the past one million years. When they compared this data with the climate history, they found that periods of fast, global temperature increases and associated ice melting were followed with periods of high volcanic activity.

Ash layers in cores from the Pacific seafloor (Photo: S. Kutterolf, GEOMAR)

Using geological computer models, the researchers have come up with a possible explanation for the link.

"In times of global warming, the glaciers are melting on the continents relatively quickly,” says Dr. Marion Jegen, a geophysicist from GEOMAR. “At the same time the sea level rises. The weight on the continents decreases, while the weight on the oceanic tectonic plates increases. Thus, the stress changes within in the earth to open more routes for ascending magma."

Because the rate of global cooling at the end of warm phases is much slower compared to the rate of warming at the beginning of such phases, there are less dramatic stress changes and less volcanic activity during these times.

"If you follow the natural climate cycles, we are currently at the end of a really warm phase,” says Dr. Steffen Kutterolf, the lead author of the study. “Therefore, things are volcanically quieter now.”

Kutterolf adds that since the impact from man-made warming is still unclear, the next step will be to investigate shorter-term historical variations in an effort to understand the implications for the present day.

The results of the team’s study are published in the journal Geology.

Source: GEOMAR

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

It's abundantly clear that volcanic activity can both cool and heat the planet, depending on what type and the duration. Pinatubo dumped a lot of SO2 into the atmosphere and cooled the climate for a year or so, but 55M years ago the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum saw wide-spread extinctions following a 6°C (11°F) rise in global temperatures over a 20,000 year period. The causes are complex but volcanic activity in what was to become the North Atlantic ocean between Europe and Greenland is implicated in a prolonged release of submarine methane clathrates. Similarly flood basalt eruptions in India, Indonesia and Siberia are associated with massive extinctions. Meanwhile we are dumping fossil carbon into the atmosphere at a rate over 100x more than all the volcanoes on the planet, overwhelming the natural processes for sequestering that carbon. Not a good idea.

Ian Orchard

Whoops, sorry Darren, dump that previous posting, I re-read your article and realised I had knee-jerked mis-read it. Interesting that the correlation between climate change and vulcanism does exist, but seems logical. It's amazing how much mass ice caps have and how much they can distort the seemingly solid crust. Probably more significant for the effects that melting ice caps will have on sea levels in their vicinity. If the Greenland ice cap melted their sea levels would fall as the gravitational attraction of all that ice dissipates.

Ian Orchard

The problem is that the denialati will latch on to this information as a reason to deny the 'A' in AGW and thus argue that we should continue with business as usual, i.e. not take any action to combat it. In some respects the scientific community are just as guilty, but from the other side of the argument.

It is not important who, what or why the planet is warming. I.e. it is the ‘GW’ in AGW is what matters, not the ‘A.’ What is important is that the current warming is headed for conditions by mid-century that can only be described as dire. We know that the warming is not going to stop by then either, no matter what we do, other than perhaps full-blown nuclear war. A cure worse than the disease if ever there were one. So we know that our families, indeed all future generations, are in for a bleak time of it. What we can also be fairly sure of is that at some point society will not withstand the stress the rising temperatures will create. We can be fairly certain that drought will be a common feature of the future climate and food production will be severely curtailed as a result. Parts of the world have already experienced food riots. We can only expect there to be more of them, many more. Seeing as supermarkets only carry around 3 day’s supply, how long will it be before the mob takes over? From there, we can expect fuel deliveries to stop and seeing as society relies heavily on transport to function the descent into chaos will be rapid. Do we really want our children and grandchildren to have to endure such privations?

Future generations will look back on this generation in particular and wonder why we were so selfish not to act to ameliorate the harm that all the science is warning us of. Was the captain of the Titanic wrong to at least try to avoid the iceberg because? It was, after all, not man-made i.e. not anthropogenic in origin? That might sound stupid, but surely arguing about the ‘A’ in AGW is just as stupid. The Titanic disaster only killed about 1500 people. GW, regardless of its cause, is on target to kill many orders of magnitude more. Their blood will be posthumously on our hands unless we do more than only give lip service to taking any action. And all the while the fossil fuel industry executives just keep reaping in their profits. One can only assume that they don’t have any children, or if they do, they don’t care about them. Strange how the teaching of ‘Do unto others ...’ has be so completely forgotten by those that do most to try and convince us that they are Christians, and some indeed to convince us that their nation is blessed by God.

Anyone expected to be alive by mid-century, or is the guardian of someone who will, would do well to watch the 2012 Cabot Annual Lecture (available on Youtube). Perhaps after watching it, the denialati might be persuaded to keep their mouths shut and their minds open. They are all in the same boat as the rest of us and no amount of wealth is going to buy them forgiveness, or even shelter from the forthcoming storm.

Mel Tisdale

Ian , 100x more Co2 than volcanos ? Really ? proof please....

Brian Mcc

I'm wondering if the headline wasn't specifically tailored to lure in suckers who wouldn't read the actual contents and just flame war with denialists. Could an editor please step in and correct this? "Global Warming Linked to Increased Volcanic Activity" would be a much more appropriate title.


No big suprise here I'd say. Like everthing in nature and most of physics, there is a balance. It just makes sense that as the earth warms it's going to have a cool down response. And besides that, what are we talking about here. Melted rock. Wouldn't it make sense that the hotter the planet gets, the more melted rock you're going to get?


AGW (anthropogenic global warming) may have some localized effects, heat islands, etc. However, how is GW explained from ice and ocean floor cores for time periods that there wasn't the 'anthropogenic' input?

There is a force much larger and more powerful, than we are giving to the human race, which can influence GW or global cooling - the Sun.

Wasn't there a recent report that there was GW on Venus, and Mars? I understand humans think their influence is great, . . . but really?!?


So, MAYBE AL GORE can sell us all some giant corks to plug the volcanos?


As expected, climate change deniers flock (note the bird brain implication) to articles like this. Sorry, but none of this undermines the well-established fact that humans are warming the planet and that the consequences are not good. I noted one poster lambasting Al Gore! Good grief!

Phillip Noe

BombR76 - Milankovitch cycles and associated forcing is included in IPCC climate models.

Stu Fletcher

Observer101, now that's funny!

Michael Gene

As good climate scientists they are equating correlation with cause.

In the other sciences, this gets your thesis thrown out, your tenure revoked, and generally bad things said about you at cocktail parties.

This article really is flamewar bait, isn't it? Or does gizmag have a monthly climate-change quota that it needs to fill?


Maybe centuries of volcanic ash gets dumped in the oceans when the glaciers melt.


This story neither supports nor compromises AGW theory. What caused all the heating that lead to the melting of the ice that shifted tectonic weights around that then lead to increased volcanism in the first place?

In fact the earth has stopped warming for the past 12 years while CO2 emissions have continued to increase exponentially so either AGW is debunked or the earth is in a rapid cooling period that AGW is masking.

Instead of insulting people who's positions lay or either side why not hear each other out, support research funding on both sides, give tenure and opportunities for peer review submissions. We want the truth as best as we can understand it, not a political position.

Rann Xeroxx

re; Snatr

Get a rock from outside put it in the oven (not a microwave) set the oven as high as the it will go then wait a whole day (you can go and do other things while waiting) after the day has passed check on the rock an see if any melting has occurred.


WHY WOULD THIS SURPRISE ANYONE? Next time you heat water see what happens at 211 degrees and 212 degrees - Does the water boil? Shouldn't it be true of the earth?

Layne Nelson

There are many episodes of significant climate variation in the past. That is a well known fact. This is very commonly invoked to explain the current warming trend.

The fact there are natural variations in no way means that the current variation is caused by the same forces. There is no evidence for it as what we see now is unprecedented. The simple fact of our existence and our current ability to produce enormous changes in the global ecosystem have never happened in the past. We have no reference on which to base the amount of influence we have versus natural forces. The one they we can be certain of is that we DO have an influence. It cannot be otherwise. The "A" in AGW is a certainty. How much it matters is not determined.

It does seem to be warming and we have clear evidence that what we do is far more likely to cause warming than any other global response. It behooves us to take measures to reduce our impact as much as possible. It is too late by far to eliminate the impact of our actions whatever they are but it isn't too late to reduce the ultimate harm we may cause.

Elder 1
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