Monday, February 24, 2014

Volcanoes contribute to recent warming ‘hiatus’

Alli Gold Roberts in MIT News: By the late 1990s, scientists had observed more than two decades of rapid global warming, and expected the warming trend to continue. Instead, despite continuing increases in greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth’s surface temperatures have remained nearly flat for the last 15 years. The International Panel on Climate Change verified this recent warming “hiatus” in its latest report.

Researchers around the globe have been working to understand this puzzle — looking at heat going into the oceans, changes in wind patterns, and other factors to explain why temperatures have stayed nearly stable, while greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to rise. In a study published today in Nature Geoscience, a team of scientists from MIT and elsewhere around the U.S. report that volcanic eruptions have contributed to this recent cooling, and that most climate models have not accurately accounted for the effects of volcanic activity.

“This is the most comprehensive observational evaluation of the role of volcanic activity on climate in the early part of the 21st century,” says co-author Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT. “We assess the contributions of volcanoes on temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest layer of the atmosphere — and find they’ve certainly played some role in keeping the Earth cooler.”

There are many components of the Earth’s climate system that can increase or decrease the temperature of the globe. For example, while greenhouse gases cause warming, some types of small particles, known as aerosols, cause cooling. When volcanoes erupt explosively enough, they enhance these aerosols — a phenomenon referred to as “volcanic forcing.”...

A 2002 eruption of Mt. Etna viewed from the International Space Station

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