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Correlation between rate of sea-level change and frequency of explosive volcanism in the Mediterranean

Abstract

Volcanic activity has frequently been linked to Quaternary environmental change, either by driving climate modification1,2 or in response to environmental changes3. Although a link has been established between large explosive eruptions and small (0.5 °C), brief (1–2 years) falls in global temperatures4, both the evidence and mechanisms responsible for longer episodes of eruption-induced planetary cooling remain questionable1,2,5,6. In contrast, recent research based on ice-core data suggests that rapid climate changes during the past 110,000 years increased explosive volcanic activity7. Here we present a statistical analysis relating the frequency of explosive activity of Mediterranean volcanoes — based on dated8,9,10,11 tephra layers in deep-sea sediment cores — to the rate of late Quaternary sea-level change. The nonlinear correlation between the two is tentatively explained in terms of dynamic responses of the volcanoes to stress-related influences on various spatial scales. The correlation supports a mechanism or mechanisms by which the climate-driven growth and decay of large ice sheets can influence the eruptive chronologies of distant volcanic edifices via changes in global sea level.

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Figure 1: Location map of principal volcanic centres and provinces active in the Mediterranean region during the late Quaternary, and the distribution of boreholes from which deep-sea cores were extracted.
Figure 2: Cumulative plot of ordered event times (representing the tephra-layer occurrence) versus time.
Figure 3: Changes in mean sea level.
Figure 4: Variation of repose periods as a function of rate of change of mean sea level with time.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Commission of the European Communities, DG XII, Environment Programme, Climatology and Natural Hazards Unit.

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Correspondence to W. J. McGuire.

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McGuire, W., Howarth, R., Firth, C. et al. Correlation between rate of sea-level change and frequency of explosive volcanism in the Mediterranean. Nature 389, 473–476 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1038/38998

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