Sulphur-rich volcanic eruptions and stratospheric aerosols

Abstract

During the past decade it has become clear that the long-lived stratospheric clouds produced by volcanic eruptions are composed largely of sulphuric acid aerosols1,2. The amount of sulphur-rich volatiles (for example, SO2, H2S) injected into the stratosphere by an explosive eruption is, therefore, a critical determinant of its atmospheric impact3,4. The small-volume eruptions of Mt Agung in 1963 and El Chichón in 1982 both generated substantial stratospheric aerosol clouds, despite the fact that they erupted 0.5 km3 of magma. Comparison of data from direct measurements of stratospheric optical depth, Greenland ice-core acidity, and volcanological studies shows that such relatively small, but sulphur-rich, eruptions can have atmospheric effects equal to or even greater than much larger sulphur-poor eruptions. These small eruptions are probably the most frequent cause of increased stratospheric aerosols.

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Rampino, M., Self, S. Sulphur-rich volcanic eruptions and stratospheric aerosols. Nature 310, 677–679 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1038/310677a0

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