Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Volcanoes have shifted Asian rainfall

Date:
November 5, 2010
Source:
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Summary:
Scientists have shown that eruptions also affect rainfall over the Asian monsoon region, where seasonal storms water crops for nearly half of earth's population. Tree-ring researchers showed that big eruptions tend to dry up much of central Asia, but bring more rain to southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar -- the opposite of what many climate models predict.

Explosive volcanoes such as Indonesia's Merapi (erupting here in 2006) have the potential to shift rain patterns.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Scientists have long known that large volcanic explosions can affect the weather by spewing particles that block solar energy and cool the air. Some suspect that extended "volcanic winters" from gigantic blowups helped kill off dinosaurs and Neanderthals. In the summer following Indonesia's 1815 Tambora eruption, frost wrecked crops as far off as New England, and the 1991 blowout of the Philippines' Mount Pinatubo lowered average global temperatures by 0.7 degrees F -- enough to mask the effects of manmade greenhouse gases for a year or so.

Now, scientists have shown that eruptions also affect rainfall over the Asian monsoon region, where seasonal storms water crops for nearly half of earth's population. Tree-ring researchers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory showed that big eruptions tend to dry up much of central Asia, but bring more rain to southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar -- the opposite of what many climate models predict. Their paper appears in an advance online version of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The growth rings of some tree species can be correlated with rainfall, and the observatory's Tree Ring Lab used rings from some 300 sites across Asia to measure the effects of 54 eruptions going back about 800 years. The data came from Lamont's new 1,000-year tree-ring atlas of Asian weather, which has already produced evidence of long, devastating droughts; the researchers also have done a prior study of volcanic cooling in the tropics. "We might think of the study of the solid earth and the atmosphere as two different things, but really everything in the system is interconnected," said Kevin Anchukaitis, the study's lead author. "Volcanoes can be important players in climate over time."

Large explosive eruptions send up sulfur compounds that turn into tiny sulfate particles high into the atmosphere, where they deflect solar radiation. Resulting cooling on earth's surface can last for months or years. (Not all eruptions will do it; for instance, the continuing eruption of Indonesia's Merapi this fall has killed dozens, but this latest episode is probably not big enough by itself to effect large-scale weather changes.) As for rainfall, in the simplest models, lowered temperatures decrease evaporation of water from the surface into the air; and less water vapor translates to less rain. But matters are greatly complicated by atmospheric circulation patterns, cyclic changes in temperatures over the oceans, and the shapes of land masses. Up to now, most climate models incorporating known forces such as changes in the sun and atmosphere have predicted that volcanic explosions would disrupt the monsoon by bringing less rain to southeast Asia--but the researchers found the opposite.

The researchers studied eruptions including one in 1258 from an unknown tropical site, thought to be the largest of the last millennium; the 1600-1601 eruption of Peru's Huaynaputina; Tambora in 1815; the 1883 explosion of Indonesia's Krakatau; Mexico's El Chichσn, in 1982; and Pinatubo. The tree rings showed that huge swaths of southern China, Mongolia and surrounding areas consistently dried up in the year or two following big events, while mainland southeast Asia got increased rain. The researchers say there are many possible factors involved, and it would speculative at this point to say exactly why it works this way.

"The data only recently became available to test the models," said Rosanne D'Arrigo, one of the study's coauthors. "Now, it's obvious there's a lot of work to be done to understand how all these different forces interact." For instance, in some episodes pinpointed by the study, it appears that strong cycles of the El Niρo-Southern Oscillation, which drives temperatures over the Pacific and Indian oceans and is thought to strongly affect the Asian monsoon, might have counteracted eruptions, lessening their drying or moistening effects. But it could work the other way, too, said Anchukaitis; if atmospheric dynamics and volcanic eruptions come together with the right timing, they could reinforce one another, with drastic results. "Then you get flooding or drought, and neither flooding nor drought is good for the people living in those regions," he said. The study also raises questions whether proposed "geoengineering" schemes to counteract manmade climate change with huge artificial releases of volcanism-like particles might have complex unintended consequences.

Ultimately, said Anchukaitis, such studies should help scientists refine models of how natural and manmade forces might act together to in the future to shift weather patterns -- a vital question for all areas of the world.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Anchukaitis, K. J., B. M. Buckley, E. R. Cook, B. I. Cook, R. D. D'Arrigo, and C. M. Ammann. The Influence of Volcanic Eruptions on the Climate of the Asian Monsoon Region. Geophysical Research Letters, 2010 DOI: 10.1029/2010GL044843

Cite This Page:

The Earth Institute at Columbia University. "Volcanoes have shifted Asian rainfall." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103135251.htm>.
The Earth Institute at Columbia University. (2010, November 5). Volcanoes have shifted Asian rainfall. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103135251.htm
The Earth Institute at Columbia University. "Volcanoes have shifted Asian rainfall." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103135251.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

AFP (July 22, 2014) — As part of the 14-ship convoy that will accompany the Costa Concordia from the port of Giglio to the port of Genoa, there will be a boat carrying experts to look out for dolphins and whales from crossing the path of the Concordia. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

AP (July 21, 2014) — New Orleans is the first U.S. city to participate in a large-scale recycling effort for cigarette butts. The city is rolling out dozens of containers for smokers to use when they discard their butts. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) — A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

AFP (July 19, 2014) — A spectaCular lightning storm struck the UK overnight Friday. Images of lightning strikes over the Shard and Tower Bridge in central London. Duration: 00:23 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins