ubc science


Climate change may prevent volcanoes from cooling the planet

New UBC research shows that climate change may impede the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions.

When an eruption is powerful enough, volcanoes spew sulfur gasses high into the atmosphere, reaching a layer called the stratosphere, about 10 to 15 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. Here, gasses react with water to form aerosol particles that linger in the stratosphere for one or two years, reflecting sunlight and heat from the sun, and cooling the planet. On average, there are anywhere from three to five eruptions that reach the stratosphere every year.

Previous research has shown that as the planet warms, the lower layers of the atmosphere will expand, making it much harder for the gasses to reach the stratosphere. At lower levels, in the troposphere, the gasses quickly get turned into aerosols and clouds and precipitate back down to earth as rain or snow.

“Volcanic eruptions tend to counteract global warming but as the planet heats up and our atmosphere changes, we’ve found that fewer eruptions will be able to reflect the sun’s radiation,” said Thomas Aubry, a PhD student studying climate and volcanoes. “It will be harder for the volcanic gasses to reach high enough into atmosphere to help cool the planet.”

Aubry notes that while the planet continues to warm, scientists have observed a slight decline in the rate of global warming over the last 10 to 15 years. Previous studies have shown that this is partially caused by the number of large eruptions over the last decade that have sent sulfur gasses high up into the stratosphere.

For this study, Aubry, who is a PhD student in professor Mark Jellinek’s lab in the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences, used models of volcanic eruptions and global climate to calculate the impact on gasses released from volcanic eruptions.

According to climate model projections and global warming, Aubry and his co-authors found the amount of volcanic sulfur gasses in the stratosphere will decrease anywhere from two to twelve per cent in the next 100 years. Longer term, they predict anywhere from 12 to 25 per cent less sulfur gas in the stratosphere by the 22nd and 23rd centuries. They say the range is large because it is difficult to predict future eruptions and future greenhouse gas emissions.

To determine the precise impact on the Earth’s surface temperature in the future will require further study. It also raises interesting questions about Earth’s history.

“Understanding this positive feedback loop has provocative implications for understanding climate variability in Earth’s past,” said Jellinek. “In particular, this mechanism may have contributed to Earth’s entry into a long period of global glaciation around 700 million years ago, a theory known as the Snowball Earth hypothesis.”

This study was published today in the journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmosphere: http://onlinelibrary.​wiley.​com/​doi/​10.​1002/​2016JD025405/​full. This research was funded UBC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Comic by the Plainspoken Scientist blog: http://blogs.​agu.​org/​sciencecommunication/​2016/​11/​16/​drawn-geoscience-cartoons-volcanoes/​

Blog by GeoSpace: http://blogs.​agu.​org/​geospace/​2016/​11/​16/​global-warming-reduce-volcanic-cooling-effects-climate/​


Finally had a chance to go find my composite in the biology building today! I walked allll around to only realize that it’s in the front of the building by the biology advising office… silly me. But I found it! How unreal is that? 4 years ago I was just a UBC noob, and look at me now! A UBC alumni! The bio building will forever hold my photo! So happy! :)

How My Family Got Through The Recession

I was born and raised in Smithers, a small, isolated town of about 5000 people in central British Columbia. I lived in an old bungalow with my parents and three older brothers. It was a typical, quiet little town where everyone knew each other, and everyone had an intrinsic sense of care and respect for each other. I lived a relatively normal life until 2007, when the recession came.

Canada wasn’t impacted as severely as the US but British Columbia was hit quite hard. Thus, my fragile, little town obviously felt the wrath, too. Lots of people started moving from Smithers in hopes of finding new and more sustainable jobs in bigger cities like Vancouver and Victoria. I loved my town so this was a bit disheartening to witness as a sheltered and naive 15-year-old. My parents simply explained to me that people were just eager to leave our then dying town for the sake of survival. Several of our neighbours even left without uttering a single goodbye, desperate to leave, shamelessly vanishing into thin air. At one point, someone we knew would move away almost every week. My parents adamantly chose to stay, unable to embrace the idea of leaving our way of life.

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