Article | Published:

Disproportionately strong climate forcing from extratropical explosive volcanic eruptions

Abstract

Extratropical volcanic eruptions are commonly thought to be less effective at driving large-scale surface cooling than tropical eruptions. However, recent minor extratropical eruptions have produced a measurable climate impact, and proxy records suggest that the most extreme Northern Hemisphere cold period of the Common Era was initiated by an extratropical eruption in 536 ce. Using ice-core-derived volcanic stratospheric sulfur injections and Northern Hemisphere summer temperature reconstructions from tree rings, we show here that in proportion to their estimated stratospheric sulfur injection, extratropical explosive eruptions since 750 ce have produced stronger hemispheric cooling than tropical eruptions. Stratospheric aerosol simulations demonstrate that for eruptions with a sulfur injection magnitude and height equal to that of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, extratropical eruptions produce time-integrated radiative forcing anomalies over the Northern Hemisphere extratropics up to 80% greater than tropical eruptions, as decreases in aerosol lifetime are overwhelmed by the enhanced radiative impact associated with the relative confinement of aerosol to a single hemisphere. The model results are consistent with the temperature reconstructions, and elucidate how the radiative forcing produced by extratropical eruptions is strongly dependent on the eruption season and sulfur injection height within the stratosphere.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Code availability

The Matlab scripts used for the analyses described in this study can be obtained from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Data availability

The VSSI estimates used in this study are available in the World Data Center for Climate hosted by the German Climate Computing Center (DKRZ) with the identifier https://doi.org/10.1594/WDCC/eVolv2k_v2. The Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions used are available from the NOAA/World Data Service for Paleoclimatology archives via the links https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo-search/study/19743, https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo-search/study/19039 and https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo-search/study/18875. Output from the MAECHAM5-HAM simulations is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Robock, A. Volcanic eruptions and climate. Rev. Geophys. 38, 191–219 (2000).

  2. 2.

    Kirtman, B. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 953–1028 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2013).

  3. 3.

    Myhre, G. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 658–740 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2013).

  4. 4.

    Schneider, D. P., Ammann, C. M., Otto-Bliesner, B. L. & Kaufman, D. S. Climate response to large, high-latitude and low-latitude volcanic eruptions in the Community Climate System Model. J. Geophys. Res. 114, D15101 (2009).

  5. 5.

    Gao, C., Robock, A. & Ammann, C. Volcanic forcing of climate over the past 1500 years: an improved ice core-based index for climate models. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D23111 (2008).

  6. 6.

    Ammann, C. M., Meehl, G. A., Washington, W. M. & Zender, C. S. A monthly and latitudinally varying volcanic forcing dataset in simulations of 20th century climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1657 (2003).

  7. 7.

    Carn, S. A., Clarisse, L. & Prata, A. J. Multi-decadal satellite measurements of global volcanic degassing. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 311, 99–134 (2016).

  8. 8.

    Sigl, M. et al. Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years. Nature 523, 543–549 (2015).

  9. 9.

    Schmidt, A., Thordarson, T., Oman, L. D., Robock, A. & Self, S. Climatic impact of the long-lasting 1783 Laki eruption: inapplicability of mass-independent sulfur isotopic composition measurements. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D23116 (2012).

  10. 10.

    Santer, B. D. et al. Volcanic contribution to decadal changes in tropospheric temperature. Nat. Geosci. 7, 185–189 (2014).

  11. 11.

    Solomon, S. et al. The persistently variable ‘background’ stratospheric aerosol layer and global climate change. Science 333, 866–870 (2011).

  12. 12.

    Haywood, J. M., Jones, A., Bellouin, N. & Stephenson, D. Asymmetric forcing from stratospheric aerosols impacts Sahelian rainfall. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 660–665 (2013).

  13. 13.

    Colose, C. M., LeGrande, A. N. & Vuille, M. The influence of volcanic eruptions on the climate of tropical South America during the last millennium in an isotope-enabled general circulation model. Clim. Past 12, 961–979 (2016).

  14. 14.

    Pausata, F. S. R., Chafik, L., Caballero, R. & Battisti, D. S. Impacts of high-latitude volcanic eruptions on ENSO and AMOC. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 13784–13788 (2015).

  15. 15.

    Stevenson, S., Fasullo, J. T., Otto-Bliesner, B. L., Tomas, R. A. & Gao, C. Role of eruption season in reconciling model and proxy responses to tropical volcanism. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 1822–1826 (2017).

  16. 16.

    Toohey, M., Krüger, K., Sigl, M., Stordal, F. & Svensen, H. Climatic and societal impacts of a volcanic double event at the dawn of the Middle Ages. Clim. Change 136, 401–412 (2016).

  17. 17.

    Büntgen, U. et al. Cooling and societal change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 ad. Nat. Geosci. 9, 231–236 (2016).

  18. 18.

    Briffa, K. R., Jones, P. D., Schweingruber, F. H. & Osborn, T. J. Influence of volcanic eruptions on Northern Hemisphere summer temperature over the past 600 years. Nature 393, 450–455 (1998).

  19. 19.

    Wilson, R. et al. Last millennium Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures from tree rings. Part I: The long term context. Quat. Sci. Rev. 134, 1–18 (2016).

  20. 20.

    Stoffel, M. et al. Estimates of volcanic-induced cooling in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,500 years. Nat. Geosci. 8, 784–788 (2015).

  21. 21.

    Schneider, L. et al. Revising midlatitude summer temperatures back to ad 600 based on a wood density network. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 4556–4562 (2015).

  22. 22.

    Toohey, M. & Sigl, M. Volcanic stratospheric sulfur injections and aerosol optical depth from 500 bce to 1900 ce. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 9, 809–831 (2017).

  23. 23.

    Gao, C., Oman, L., Robock, A. & Stenchikov, G. L. Atmospheric volcanic loading derived from bipolar ice cores: accounting for the spatial distribution of volcanic deposition. J. Geophys. Res. 112, D09109 (2007).

  24. 24.

    Oman, L. et al. Modeling the distribution of the volcanic aerosol cloud from the 1783–1784 Laki eruption. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D12209 (2006).

  25. 25.

    Guo, S., Bluth, G. J. S., Rose, W. I., Watson, I. M. & Prata, A. J. Re-evaluation of SO2 release of the 15 June 1991 Pinatubo eruption using ultraviolet and infrared satellite sensors. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 5, Q04001 (2004).

  26. 26.

    Toohey, M., Krüger, K., Niemeier, U. & Timmreck, C. The influence of eruption season on the global aerosol evolution and radiative impact of tropical volcanic eruptions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 11, 12351–12367 (2011).

  27. 27.

    Kravitz, B. & Robock, A. Climate effects of high-latitude volcanic eruptions: role of the time of year. J. Geophys. Res. 116, D01105 (2011).

  28. 28.

    Global Volcanism Program Volcanoes of the World v.4.4.1. (ed. Venzke, E.) (Smithsonian Institution, accessed 13 Oct 2015); https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.VOTW4-2013

  29. 29.

    D’Arrigo, R., Wilson, R. & Tudhope, A. The impact of volcanic forcing on tropical temperatures during the past four centuries. Nat. Geosci. 2, 51–56 (2008).

  30. 30.

    Plumb, R. A. Stratospheric transport. J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn 80, 793–809 (2002).

  31. 31.

    Holton, J. R. et al. Stratosphere–troposphere exchange. Rev. Geophys. 33, 403–439 (1995).

  32. 32.

    Timmreck, C. et al. Aerosol size confines climate response to volcanic super-eruptions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L24705 (2010).

  33. 33.

    Lacis, A. Volcanic aerosol radiative properties. PAGES Newsl. 23, 50–51 (2015).

  34. 34.

    Stenchikov, G. L. et al. Radiative forcing from the 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption. J. Geophys. Res. 103, 13837–13857 (1998).

  35. 35.

    Forster, P. M. et al. Recommendations for diagnosing effective radiative forcing from climate models for CMIP6. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 12460–12475 (2016).

  36. 36.

    Hansen, J. et al. Efficacy of climate forcings. J. Geophys. Res. 110, D18104 (2005).

  37. 37.

    Shindell, D. & Faluvegi, G. Climate response to regional radiative forcing during the twentieth century. Nat. Geosci. 2, 294–300 (2009).

  38. 38.

    Shindell, D. T., Faluvegi, G., Rotstayn, L. & Milly, G. Spatial patterns of radiative forcing and surface temperature response. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120, 5385–5403 (2015).

  39. 39.

    Glaze, L. S. & Baloga, S. M. Sensitivity of buoyant plume heights to ambient atmospheric conditions: implications for volcanic eruption columns. J. Geophys. Res. 101, 1529–1540 (1996).

  40. 40.

    Sparks, R. S. J. The dimensions and dynamics of volcanic eruption columns. Bull. Volcanol. 48, 3–15 (1986).

  41. 41.

    Hildreth, W. & Fierstein, J. The Novarupta-Katmai Eruption of 1912—Largest Eruption of the Twentieth Century: Centennial Perspectives US Geological Survey Professional Paper 1791 (US Geological Survey, 2012).

  42. 42.

    Crowley, T. J. & Unterman, M. B. Technical details concerning development of a 1200 yr proxy index for global volcanism. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 5, 187–197 (2013).

  43. 43.

    Schmidt, G. A. et al. Climate forcing reconstructions for use in PMIP simulations of the last millennium (v1.0). Geosci. Model Dev. 4, 33–45 (2011).

  44. 44.

    Cole-Dai, J. et al. Cold decade (ad 1810–1819) caused by Tambora (1815) and another (1809) stratospheric volcanic eruption. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L22703 (2009).

  45. 45.

    Guillet, S. et al. Climate response to the Samalas volcanic eruption in 1257 revealed by proxy records. Nat. Geosci 10, 123–128 (2017).

  46. 46.

    Jensen, B. J. L. et al. Transatlantic distribution of the Alaskan White River Ash. Geology 42, 875–878 (2014).

  47. 47.

    Sun, C. et al. Ash from Changbaishan Millennium eruption recorded in Greenland ice: implications for determining the eruption’s timing and impact. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 694–701 (2014).

  48. 48.

    Oppenheimer, C. et al. The Eldgjá eruption: timing, long-range impacts and influence on the Christianisation of Iceland. Clim. Change 147, 369–381 (2018).

  49. 49.

    Baroni, M., Savarino, J., Cole-Dai, J., Rai, V. K. & Thiemens, M. H. Anomalous sulfur isotope compositions of volcanic sulfate over the last millennium in Antarctic ice cores. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D20112 (2008).

  50. 50.

    Savarino, J., Romero, A., Cole‐Dai, J., Bekki, S. & Thiemens, M. H. UV induced mass-independent sulfur isotope fractionation in stratospheric volcanic sulfate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 2131 (2003).

  51. 51.

    Lanciki, A., Cole-Dai, J., Thiemens, M. H. & Savarino, J. Sulfur isotope evidence of little or no stratospheric impact by the 1783 Laki volcanic eruption. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L01806 (2012).

  52. 52.

    Thordarson, T. & Larsen, G. Volcanism in Iceland in historical time: volcano types, eruption styles and eruptive history. J. Geodyn. 43, 118–152 (2007).

  53. 53.

    Oppenheimer, C. et al. Multi-proxy dating the ‘Millennium Eruption’ of Changbaishan to late 946 ce. Quat. Sci. Rev. 158, 164–171 (2017).

  54. 54.

    Stothers, R. B. Mystery cloud of ad 536. Nature 307, 344–345 (1984).

  55. 55.

    Watt, S. F. L., Pyle, D. M. & Mather, T. A. The volcanic response to deglaciation: evidence from glaciated arcs and a reassessment of global eruption records. Earth Sci. Rev. 122, 77–102 (2013).

  56. 56.

    Niemeier, U. et al. Initial fate of fine ash and sulfur from large volcanic eruptions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 9, 9043–9057 (2009).

  57. 57.

    Toohey, M., Krüger, K. & Timmreck, C. Volcanic sulfate deposition to Greenland and Antarctica: a modeling sensitivity study. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 4788–4800 (2013).

  58. 58.

    Timmreck, C., Graf, H.-F. & Steil, B. in Volcanism and the Earth’s Atmosphere (eds Robock, A. & Oppenheimer, C.) 213–225 (Geophysical Monograph Series Vol. 139, American Geophysical Union, 2003).

  59. 59.

    Bekki, S. Oxidation of volcanic SO2: a sink for stratospheric OH and H2O. Geophys. Res. Lett. 22, 913–916 (1995).

  60. 60.

    Stier, P. et al. The aerosol–climate model ECHAM5-HAM. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 5, 1125–1156 (2005).

  61. 61.

    Punge, H. J., Konopka, P., Giorgetta, M. A. & Müller, R. Effects of the quasi-biennial oscillation on low-latitude transport in the stratosphere derived from trajectory calculations. J. Geophys. Res. 114, D03102 (2009).

  62. 62.

    Metzner, D. et al. Radiative forcing and climate impact resulting from SO2 injections based on a 200,000-year record of Plinian eruptions along the Central American Volcanic Arc. Int. J. Earth Sci. 103, 2063–2079 (2014).

  63. 63.

    Jones, A. C., Haywood, J. M., Jones, A. & Aquila, V. Sensitivity of volcanic aerosol dispersion to meteorological conditions: a Pinatubo case study. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 6892–6908 (2016).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research in Germany (BMBF) through the research program “MiKlip” (grant nos FKZ:01LP130B, 01LP1130A and 01LP1517B). M.T. additionally acknowledges support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in the framework of the priority programme “Antarctic Research with comparative investigations in Arctic ice areas” through grant no. TO 967/1-1. K.K. and M.Sigl acknowledge support through the NFR project “VIKINGS” (project no. 275191). C.T. additionally acknowledges support from the European Union project StratoClim (FP7-ENV.2013.6.1-2). Computations were performed at the German Climate Computer Center (DKRZ). The authors thank L. Schneider and co-workers for making their Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstruction publically available. This paper is a product of the Volcanic Impacts on Climate and Society (VICS) working group, as part of the Past Global Changes (PAGES) project, which in turn received support from the US National Science Foundation and the Swiss Academy of Sciences.

Author information

M.T., K.K., C.T. and H.S. designed the model experiments. M.T. performed the model simulations and analysis with input from K.K., C.T. and H.S. M.T. performed the analysis of the tree-ring-temperature reconstructions and VSSIs with input from M.Sigl, M.Stoffel and R.W. M.T. led the manuscript writing with input from all the co-authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Matthew Toohey.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary figures and tables

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark
Fig. 1: Reconstructed post-volcanic Northern Hemisphere temperature response to Northern Hemisphere extratropical and tropical eruptions in relation to VSSI.
Fig. 2: Simulated volcanic stratospheric aerosol burdens and lifetimes for varying eruption latitude, season and injection height.
Fig. 3: Simulated global mean volcanic aerosol properties for varying eruption latitude, season and injection height.
Fig. 4: Simulated volcanic SAOD and ERF over the NHET for varying eruption latitude, season and injection height.