Study: Global Warming ‘Pause’ Caused By Small Volcanic Eruptions

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Small volcanic eruptions have helped cause a “pause” in global warming over the last 15 years, according to a recent study from scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

When volcanoes erupt, they emit tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky, which can have a cooling effect on the atmosphere. Scientists at Livermore labs now say that a series of small volcanic eruptions during the 21st century could explain up to one-third of the so-called pause in global warming.

“This new work shows that the climate signals of late 20th- and early 21st-century volcanic activity can be detected in a variety of different observational data sets,” Benjamin Santer, LLNL scientist and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Scientists have been struggling to explain why global temperatures have not risen in accordance with their climate models. Dozens of explanations have been put forward to explain why global temperatures have not been rising. Such theories include natural ocean cycles, declining sunspots and even Chinese coal plant emissions.

Some scientists and environmentalists, however, have argued that the Earth is still warming. They point to a recent determination by the Japan Meteorological Agency that 2014 was the warmest on record globally by 0.05 degrees Celsius.

Satellite data shows that 2014 was only between the 3rd and 6th warmest on record — depending on which satellite dataset is used.

But now Livermore scientists say small volcanic eruptions could be the key to understanding at least some of the hiatus in warming — their second study on the issue. The idea was first put forward by a scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a 2011 study. Before that, it was thought that only massive volcanic eruptions could influence global climate.

“The fact that these volcanic signatures are apparent in multiple independently measured climate variables really supports the idea that they are influencing climate in spite of their moderate size,” said Mark Zelinka, Livermore scientist and co-author of the latest study.

“If we wish to accurately simulate recent climate change in models, we cannot neglect the ability of these smaller eruptions to reflect sunlight away from Earth,” Zelinka said.

Satellite datasets now show that global temperatures have not significantly trended upwards for the past 18 years and three months. Surface temperature data shows a global warming pause of 10 to 15 years.

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