How Climate Change May Have Impacted the Cumbre Vieja Eruption

Photo by Luca N on Unsplash

The Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma has been erupting for the last two weeks and still seems to be gathering momentum. The European Space Agency has captured images showing that lava and smoke plumes are still erupting from the site. 

The north side of the crater has also collapsed after two more earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 3.0 hit the volcano. This means the lava is flowing faster than before, posing a threat to nearby towns. 

More than 6,000 people have already been evacuated as the eruption sent gas and ash up to 6,000 meters into the air. 

Below we look at whether climate change affects eruptions and whether the volcanos make climate change worse.

Does Climate Change Affect Volcanic Eruptions? 

Researchers at the University of Cambridge recently found that climate change might affect how volcanic gasses interact with the atmosphere. 

According to the research, “As the atmosphere warms due to climate change, the plumes of ash and gas emitted by large, but infrequent, volcanic eruptions will rise ever higher. Climate change will also accelerate the transport of volcanic material – in the form of small, shiny droplets called volcanic sulfate aerosols – from the tropics to higher latitudes.”

The research also states that as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, volcanic emissions interact with the atmosphere will continue to change. 

On the flip side, climate change may reduce the impact of more minor, more frequent eruptions. 

Do Volcanoes Make Climate Change Worse?

Volcanic carbon dioxide can make global warming worse, but volcanoes only release about 1% of the equivalent amount of CO2 that human activities emit. So while major volcanic eruptions can release significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it’s nothing compared to human activity. 

Ash from volcanoes also doesn’t significantly impact climate change, as it only stays in the stratosphere for a few days or weeks. However, volcanoes release sulfur dioxide, which condenses in the stratosphere when converted to sulfuric acid to form sulfate aerosols. These aerosols have a cooling effect on the Earth’s atmosphere.

As we continue to emit high levels of greenhouse gases, scientists continue to study the effects of climate change on volcanoes and the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate change. 

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