Iceland volcano may cause short-term climate shift, professor says

Erin Pustay

The volcano with the name nobody can pronounce could have a big impact on the world long after it has finished erupting.

Mount Eyjafjallajokull first erupted more than a week ago, spewing ash and spitting lava. The eruption disrupted hundreds of thousands of travel plans, closed airports across Europe and delayed business meetings as planes were grounded.

Although jets are taking to the skies once again and modern life is getting back to normal for Europeans and American travelers, the global climate could be affected for several years to come.

Dr. Carrie Schweitzer, an associate professor of geology at Kent State University, said Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption could cause temperatures worldwide to dip just slightly – two or three degrees – in the next two years.

The reason for that, Schweitzer explained, is that the ash particles in the atmosphere – the ones that clog jet engines – bounce sunlight back into space. When less sunlight gets through, the world, naturally gets cooler.

“When you have a major eruption like this,” Schweitzer said, “you have the chance for short-term climate change. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it produced a lot of ash and it brought down global temperatures by a degree or two in the following year. The summer was also a lot cooler and rainier.”

Scientists like Schweitzer are excited to see what kind of effects the volcanic eruption could have globally. Solving the climate change problem is not easy, but one school of thought believes that putting small particles into the air could help reduce temperatures worldwide.

“It’s doing purposely what volcanos do naturally,” Schweitzer said.

This eruption will allow scientists to see what kind of effects that problem-solving measure would really have.

What’s most exciting, however, is the chances that geologists will have to study the earth as it changes and grows.

“Iceland is basically right on what we call the mid-ocean ridge, sitting on a place where a lot of lava is brought to the surface,” Schweitzer said. “It is going to be fantastic for people who study plate tectonics to see what is happening where the Atlantic is getting wider. They will get to look at new crust of the earth as it forms. The rocks will be sampled as well as the ash.”

The one-year effects of the volcano could cause big problems for the people of Iceland and Europe.

“They (Icelanders) are going to have a huge problem with crop failures,” Schweitzer said, noting that scientists are unsure how widespread the crop failures could be.

Whether or not the crop failures extend into Europe would depend on how long and how ferociously the volcano continues to erupt. The biggest problems for Europeans, at this point, is dealing with the mechanical problems and health hazards from the particles in the air, Schweitzer said.

The Independent