It is known that a volcanic eruption can lead to dramatic shifts in the atmosphere, but their periods of “sleep”, when they fall silent, are still poorly understood, Science Alert writes .
In a new study, a team of scientists from the University of Washington focused on understanding how dormant volcanoes affect the Earth’s climate. Scientists suggest that in fact we could underestimate the sleeping giants – previously, they are able to emit three times as much sulfur into the Earth’s atmosphere, even when they seem to be sleeping.
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According to atmospheric scientist Ursula Jongebloed, her and colleagues’ study is based on tiny particles trapped in layers of ice cores recovered from central Greenland. As a result, scientists were able to study the composition of the atmosphere circulating over the Arctic between 1200 and 1850. Scientists have found that sulfur emissions from dormant volcanoes are much higher than previously thought.
Scientists have found that over longer timescales, the amount of sulfate aerosols released during passive degassing is much higher than during the eruptions themselves. The researchers note that these new data indicate that scientists now need to edit climate models and air quality calibrations based on the new data. The main problem is that sulfur is one of the most important elements in terms of providing the Earth’s cooling effect.
According to Yongebloed, the results of the study suggest that on a decade-long scale, dormant volcanoes emit 10 times more sulfur than during an eruption, and perhaps even 30 times more in reality.
Note that initially, scientists only wanted to study the amount of sulfur that phytoplankton emits into the Earth’s atmosphere – this happens through the compounds that they release as they grow. However, scientists accidentally discovered the “contribution of volcanoes” and changed the direction of the study – now the researchers believe that volcanoes may be twice as important as phytoplankton when it comes to sulfur emissions.
Scientists note that the gases flowing from dormant volcanoes are not recorded on satellite images, which, apparently, is the reason for the underestimation of their contribution. According to atmospheric scientist Becky Alexander, we really don’t know what the earth’s natural, untouched atmosphere looks like in terms of aerosols. However, the results obtained by scientists can shed light on this. Scientists also believe that these “dormant volcano gases” may also explain why the Arctic is warming faster than expected, as initial aerosol levels appear to be higher than previously thought.
The researchers note that understanding fluctuations in sulfur in the planet’s atmosphere is actually critical to modeling the balance of heat trapped in the atmosphere as well as energy reflected back into space. Aerosol particles are able to block solar radiation, resulting in a cooling effect.
It is assumed that further research will be able to shed light on how volcanoes affect climate change around the planet, which means scientists will better understand how to deal with them.