Serious volcanic eruptions are more common than previously thought, according to research published Tuesday by the University of Leeds.
The new research found that serious volcanic eruptions — ones big enough to ground plane flights — occur roughly once every 44 years. This means there’s a 20 percent chance of an eruption every decade.
The 2010 Iceland eruption is estimated to have cost the global economy roughly $5 billion, largely because airlines were forced to re-route flights around it.
“In 2010, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, people were really shocked – it seemed to come completely out of the blue, but the eruption of Grímsvötn, the following year, was an extraordinary coincidence,” Dr. Graeme Swindles, a geologist at the University of Leeds who was involved in the research, wrote in a press statement. “Although it is possible that ash clouds can occur on an annual basis, the average return interval for the last 1,000 years is around 44 years.”
Repeated small eruptions can have a large cumulative impact. A study by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that small volcanic eruptions in the early 21st century were responsible for up to a third of the “pause” in global warming.
Until last year, scientists thought that only particularly large eruptions could have any noticeable effect on the climate.
“Our research shows that, over thousands of years, these sorts of incidents are not that rare – but people wondering how likely it is that the 2010 chaos will be repeated in the next few years can feel somewhat reassured,” Swindles continued. “The last time volcanic ash clouds affected northern Europe before the recent event was in 1947, 69 years ago – but aviation was much less intense at that time and it simply didn’t have the same sort of impact.”
The enormous quantities of ash and gases ejected from the volcanoes could cause substantially slower global warming by blocking out the sun. Volcanoes have cooled Earth by 0.05° to 0.12° Celsius since 2000, according to studies. That’s drastically more than the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which will theoretically only advert 0.019° Celsius of warming by the year 2100 — an amount so small it can’t be detected.
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