Ocean thermal expansion contributes significantly to sea-level variability and rise1. However, observed decadal variability in ocean heat content2,3 and sea level4 has not been reproduced well in climate models5. Aerosols injected into the stratosphere during volcanic eruptions scatter incoming solar radiation, and cause a rapid cooling of the atmosphere6,7 and a reduction in rainfall6,8,9, as well as other changes in the climate system7. Here we use observations of ocean heat content2,3 and a set of climate simulations to show that large volcanic eruptions result in rapid reductions in ocean heat content and global mean sea level. For the Mt Pinatubo eruption, we estimate a reduction in ocean heat content of about 3 × 1022 J and a global sea-level fall of about 5 mm. Over the three years following such an eruption, we estimate a decrease in evaporation of up to 0.1 mm d-1, comparable to observed changes in mean land precipitation6,8,9. The recovery of sea level following the Mt Pinatubo eruption in 1991 explains about half of the difference between the long-term rate of sea-level rise4 of 1.8 mm yr-1 (for 1950–2000), and the higher rate estimated for the more recent period where satellite altimeter data are available (1993–2000)4,10.
Your institute does not have access to this article
Open Access articles citing this article.
Bulletin of Volcanology Open Access 04 May 2022
Climate Dynamics Open Access 18 December 2020
Scientific Reports Open Access 15 January 2020
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Church, J. A. et al. in Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis (ed. Houghton, J. T.) 639–694 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2001)
Levitus, S., Antonov, J. I. & Boyer, T. P. Warming of the World Ocean, 1955–2003. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L02604 (2005) doi:10.1029/2004GL021592
Ishii, M., Kimono, M. & Kachi, M. Historical ocean subsurface temperature analysis with error estimates. Mon. Weath. Rev. 131, 51–73 (2003)
Church, J. A., White, N. J., Coleman, R., Lambeck, K. & Mitrovica, J. X. Estimates of the regional distribution of sea-level rise over the 1950 to 2000 period. J. Clim. 17, 2609–2625 (2004)
Gregory, J. M. et al. Comparison of results from several AOGCMs for global and regional sea-level change 1900–2100. Clim. Dyn. 18, 225–240 (2001)
Robock, A. & Liu, Y. The volcanic signal in Goddard Institute for Space Studies three-dimensional model simulations. J. Clim. 7, 44–55 (1994)
Robock, A. Volcanic eruptions and climate. Rev. Geophys. 38, 191–219 (2000)
Gillett, N. P., Weaver, A. J., Zwiers, F. W. & Wehner, M. F. Detection of volcanic influence on global precipitation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L12217, doi:10.1029/2004GL020044 (2004)
Lambert, F., Stott, P. A., Allen, M. R. & Palmer, M. A. Detection and attribution of changes in 20th century land precipitation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L10203,doi:10.1029/2004GLO019545 (2004)
Leuliette, E. W., Nerem, R. S. & Mitchum, G. T. Calibration of TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason altimeter data to construct a continuous record of mean sea level change. Mar. Geod. 27, 79–94 (2004)
Stott, P. A. et al. External control of 20th century temperature by natural and anthropogenic forcings. Science 290, 2133–2137 (2000)
Ammann, C. M., Meehl, G. A. & Washington, W. M. A monthly and latitudinally varying volcanic forcing dataset in simulations of the 20th century climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 16257, doi:10.1029/2003GL016875 (2003)
Broccoli, A. J. et al. Twentieth-century temperature and precipitation trends in ensemble climate simulations including natural and anthropogenic forcing. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4798, doi:10.1029.2003JD003812 (2003)
Sun, S. & Hansen, J. E. Climate simulations for 1951–2050 with a coupled atmosphere-ocean model. J. Clim. 16, 2807–2826 (2003)
Hansen, J. E. et al. Earth's energy imbalance; confirmation and implications. Science 308, 1431–1435 (2005)
Meehl, G. A. et al. Combinations of natural and anthropogenic forcings in 20th century climate. J. Clim. 17, 3721–3727 (2004)
Washington, W. M. et al. Parallel climate model (PCM) control and transient simulations. Clim. Dyn. 16, 755–774 (2000)
Gregory, J. M., Banks, H. T., Stott, P. A., Lowe, J. A. & Palmer, M. D. Simulated and observed decadal variability in ocean heat content. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L15312, doi:10.1029/2004GL020258 (2004)
Nozawa, T., Nagashima, T., Shiogama, H. & Crooks, S. A. Detecting natural influence on surface air temperatures change in the early twentieth century. Geophys. Res. Lett. (in the press)
Sato, M., Hansen, J. E., McCormick, M. P. & Pollack, J. B. Stratospheric aerosol optical depths, 1850–1990. J. Geophys. Res. 98, 22987–22994 (1993)
Rayner, N. et al. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4407, doi:10.1029/2002JD002670 (2003)
Minnis, P. et al. Radiative climate forcing by the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Science 259, 1411–1415 (1993)
Delworth, T. L., Ramaswamy, V. & Stenchikov, G. L. The impact of aerosols on simulated ocean temperature, heat content, and sea level in the 20th century. Geophys. Res. Lett. (submitted)
Arendt, A. A., Echelmeyer, K. A., Harrison, W. D.,, Lingle, C. S. & Valentine, V. B. Rapid wastage of Alaska glaciers and their contributions to rising sea level. Science 297, 382–386 (2002)
Thomas, R. et al. Accelerated sea-level rise from West Antarctica. Science 306, 255–258 (2004)
Rignot, E. et al. Accelerated ice discharge from the Antarctic Peninsula following the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, l18401, doi:10.1029/2004GL020697 (2004)
Rignot, E., Rivera, A. & Casassa, G. Contribution of the Patagonia Icefields of South America to sea level rise. Science 302, 434–437 (2003)
Kraybill, W. et al. Greenland Ice Sheet: Increased coastal thinning. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L24402, doi:10.1029/2004GL021533 (2004)
This paper is a contribution to the CSIRO Climate Change Research Program. This work was supported by the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres Programme through the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC). Portions of this study were supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, US Department of Energy, as part of its Climate Change Prediction Program, and by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. We acknowledge the international modelling groups for providing their data for analysis, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) for collecting and archiving the model data, the JSC/CLIVAR Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) and their Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and Climate Simulation Panel for organizing the model data analysis activity, and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. The IPCC Data Archive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. We thank T. Wigley for comments and insight.
Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Church, J., White, N. & Arblaster, J. Significant decadal-scale impact of volcanic eruptions on sea level and ocean heat content. Nature 438, 74–77 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04237
Bulletin of Volcanology (2022)
Nature Geoscience (2021)
Nature Climate Change (2021)
Climate Dynamics (2021)
Scientific Reports (2020)