Influence of volcanic eruptions on Northern Hemisphere summer temperature over the past 600 years


A network of temperature-sensitive tree-ring-density chronologies provides circum-hemisphere information on year-by-year changes in summer warmth in different regions of the northern boreal forest1. Combining these data into a single time-series provides a good summer-temperature proxy for northern high latitudes and the Northern Hemisphere as a whole2. Here we use this well dated, high-resolution composite time-series to suggest that large explosive volcanic eruptions produced different extents of Northern Hemisphere cooling during the past 600 years. The large effect of some recent eruptions is apparent, such as in 1816, 1884 and 1912, but the relative effects of other known, and perhaps some previously unknown, pre-nineteenth-century eruptions are also evaluated. The most severe short-term Northern Hemisphere cooling event of the past 600 years occurred in 1601, suggesting that either the effect on climate of the eruption of Huaynaputina, Peru, in 1600 has previously been greatly underestimated, or another, as yet unidentified, eruption occurred at the same time. Other strong cooling events occurred in 1453, seemingly confirming a 1452 date for the eruption of Kuwae, southwest Pacific, and in 1641/42, 1666, 1695 and 1698.

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Figure 1: The NHD1 average of NH tree-ring-density chronologies.
Figure 2: Selected spatial patterns of tree-ring density.


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The current development of the Northern Hemisphere densitometric network is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (F.H.S.) and the European Community under ADVANCE-10K (K.R.B.). P.D.J. is supported by the US Department of Energy, and T.J.O. by NERC. We thank E. Cook, T. Crowley, M. Free, V. Morgan, E. Mosley-Thompson, C. Newhall, F. Oldfield, A. Robock and S.Self for advice and data.

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Correspondence to K. R. Briffa.

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Briffa, K., Jones, P., Schweingruber, F. et al. Influence of volcanic eruptions on Northern Hemisphere summer temperature over the past 600 years. Nature 393, 450–455 (1998).

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