Volcano Study Proves Man's Role in Global Warming

Mount Pinatubo studies show role of vulcanism in climate change, but also shows man responsible for increased global warming.

Published: 16-Feb-2002

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey, February 15, 2002 (ENS) - Research into the impact of the 1991 eruption of a Philippine volcano on the world's climate has strengthened the case for human causes of global warming, a Rutgers University scientist reports in a paper published in the February 14 issue of the international journal, "Science."

Alan Robock of the Rutgers Center for Environmental Prediction in the Department of Environmental Sciences says research on the eruption of Mount Pinatubo has improved scientists' ability to forecast the impact of future volcanoes on weather and climate.

The eruption on Luzon Island in the Philippines on June 15, 1991 produced the largest volcanic cloud of the 20th century and caused changes in worldwide climate and weather that were felt for years.

Most significant, Robock said, Mount Pinatubo helped validate computer generated climate models that demonstrate human caused global warming.

The sulfuric acid cloud released by Mount Pinatubo blocked a large percentage of sunlight from reaching the earth, created cooler summers and warmer winters, an overall net cooling at the earth's surface and altered winds and weather patterns, Robock said.

In the Middle East, it produced a rare snowstorm in Jerusalem and led to the death of coral at the bottom of the Red Sea.

The cloud also caused depletion of the ozone layer over Temperate Zone regions of the Northern Hemisphere where much of the world's population resides, in addition to the regular ozone hole which appears in October over Antarctica.

Using computer modeling, said Robock, scientists have been able to account for natural warming and cooling, as found in Arctic and Antarctic ice core samples and tree rings covering hundreds of years up to the last century.

"If you plug in volcanic eruptions, El Ninos, solar variations and other natural causes and try to simulate past climate changes, you can do a pretty good job of modeling climate change until the end of the 19th Century," the researcher said.

After that period, natural causes alone cannot account for the amount of warming, about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit), that has taken place in the last century.

"But when you factor in Pinatubo and other eruptions along with anthropogenic emissions," said Robock, "it accounts for the observed record of climate change for the past century, including the overall warming and episodic cooling, and validates the climate models."

In addition to improving understanding of global warming, scientists will be able to develop better seasonal forecasts after the next major eruption occurs, he said.

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