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Will Global Warming Make Iceland’s Volcanoes Angry?

Posted by on Apr 22nd, 2010 and filed under News and Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

You drop a bottle of soda on the floor. You pick it up and without thinking crack the cap. Woosh, Fizzz! The cap goes flying, and the contents of the bottle erupt all over you and your kitchen.

Pretty predictable outcome for an overcharged carbonated beverage, right? It shouldn’t be too much surprise, then, that volcanologists think that as icecaps melt on volcanoes all over the world, explosions like the ongoing eruption at Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano will become more common, and more violent.

Caveat time: as far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest that Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption has anything to do with human-induced climate change. Saying that this eruption was caused by greenhouse gases would be utterly misguided.

But Hugh Tuffen of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom thinks it might not be long before melting glaciers on volcanoes in places like the Andes mountains, North America’s Cascades, Alaska’s Aleutian Islands — and yes, even Iceland — could release enough pressure from supercharged magma chambers to increase the frequency and intensity of volcanic eruptions.

In short: our greenhouse gas-emitting habits will eventually increase Earth’s volcanic activity.

It may not be long before we see things ramp up either; according to Huffen, activity could increase significantly before the year 2100.

The above figure was pulled from Tuffen’s article on the subject, published yesterday in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. It shows the currently-erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano and the very dangerous Katla, which are both adorned with large icecaps (the arrows represent pathways for catastrophic flooding when the glaciers melt during an eruption).

Climate change is affecting different regions in unique ways — the famous ice fields of Mt. Kilimanjaro could be gone entirely by the end of the century. Areas of Antarctic ice are thinning at a rate of close to 2 meters (6.6 feet) per year. Here and there, a few glaciers around the world are actually growing. That makes issuing blanket statements about how climate change will affect the planet’s volcanoes pretty impractical.

What’s more, even if a volcano loses several hundred feet of ice (and many thousands of tons of weight), we don’t know how it will react. Will it pop like a shaken-up champagne bottle, fizzle quietly, or do nothing?

Scientists have looked at long-term, millennium-scale trends since the peak of the last ice age, and found that volcanic activity has indeed increased as ice sheets retreated. But what that means for people living near ice-covered fire mountains — and for air travel — remains unclear over the next few decades.

The best bet would be to try and stop warming quick as we can; try and leave the cap on the soda bottle, and never give it a chance to pop.

Source :  news.discovery.com


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