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Volcanic eruptions and climate change: Are they connected?

Climate change is the major driver of this year’s extreme temperatures, not the eruption of an underwater volcano in 2022.

OhmConnect compiled a list of how heat waves in major U.S cities have changed over time, with data from sources including the EPA, the World Health Organization, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Globalchange.gov, and other scientific research.
OhmConnect compiled a list of how heat waves in major U.S cities have changed over time, with data from sources including the EPA, the World Health Organization, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Globalchange.gov, and other scientific research. - Eli Mordechai // Shutterstock
OhmConnect compiled a list of how heat waves in major U.S cities have changed over time, with data from sources including the EPA, the World Health Organization, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Globalchange.gov, and other scientific research. - Eli Mordechai // Shutterstock

Climate change is the major driver of this year’s extreme temperatures, not the eruption of an underwater volcano in 2022.

In January 2022, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano in the South Pacific blew. The massive underwater volcanic eruption was so powerful it was recorded around the world and triggered a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States

And yes, the eruption of the volcano was certainly impressive. The thunderous roar of the eruption was heard 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) away in Alaska.

However, a panel of scientists is saying it is unfair to attribute the extreme heat our planet is experiencing this year to the eruption, as many conservative commentators seem to be doing, according to The Hill.

“It’s probably fair to say that the influence of [the volcano] on this year’s extremes is quite small,” said Stuart Jenkins, author of a paper that discussed the eruption, and was published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

The paper explains that the eruption increases the likelihood of temporarily exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming — a milestone the UN’s climate panel has said the world should avoid to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.  

Jenkins told The Hill in an interview this week the eruption could cause warming of about 0.04 or 0.05 degrees Celsius, which he described as a relatively small amount.  

“This eruption will probably have a small positive influence on global temperatures,” Jenkins said. “Because of our proximity to this defined 1.5-degree temperature threshold set out in the Paris Agreement, that four-hundredths, five-hundredths of a degree of peak warming actually does get you tangibly closer, temporarily, to that 1.5-degree limit.”

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano was so intense it reached beyond the Earth's stratosphere, into the mesosphere
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was so intense it reached beyond the Earth’s stratosphere, into the mesosphere – Copyright National Institute of Information and Communications Technology/AFP/File Handout

The main drivers of climate change

Volcanic eruptions are often discussed in relation to climate change because they release CO2 (and other gases) into our atmosphere. However, human contributions to the carbon cycle are more than 100 times those from all the volcanoes in the world – combined, according to NASA’s Global Climate Change.

And while volcanic eruptions do cause an increase in atmospheric CO2, human activities emit a Mount St. Helens-sized eruption of CO2 every 2.5 hours and a Mount Pinatubo-sized eruption of CO2 twice daily.

You could compare the total annual amount of CO2 emitted by human activity to one or more Yellowstone-sized super-eruptions going off every year.

Comparatively speaking, greenhouse gas warming coming from human activities (primarily driven by the human burning of fossil fuels) will endure for millennia, even longer than nuclear waste.

University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann estimates that about five-sixths of the recent warming is from human burning of fossil fuels, with about one-sixth due to a strong El Niño, EuroNews reports.

The fact that the world is coming out of a three-year La Nina, which suppressed global temperatures a bit, and going into a strong El Niño, which adds to them, makes the effect bigger, he says.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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