Evaluating the relationship between climate change and volcanism

Claire L. Cooper, Graeme T. Swindles, Ivan P. Savov, Anja Schmidt, Karen L. Bacon

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)


    Developing a comprehensive understanding of the interactions between the atmosphere and the geosphere is an ever-more pertinent issue as global average temperatures continue to rise. The possibility of more frequent volcanic eruptions and more therefore more frequent volcanic ash clouds raises potential concerns for the general public and the aviation industry. This review describes the major processes involved in short- and long-term volcano–climate interactions with a focus on Iceland and northern Europe, illustrating a complex interconnected system, wherein volcanoes directly affect the climate and climate change may indirectly affect volcanic systems. In this paper we examine both the effect of volcanic inputs into the atmosphere on climate conditions, in addition to the reverse relationship – that is, how global temperature fluctuations may influence the occurrence of volcanic eruptions. Explosive volcanic eruptions can cause surface cooling on regional and global scales through stratospheric injection of aerosols and fine ash particles, as documented in many historic eruptions, such as the Pinatubo eruption in 1991. The atmospheric effects of large-magnitude explosive eruptions are more pronounced when the eruptions occur in the tropics due to increased aerosol dispersal and effects on the meridional temperature gradient. Additionally, on a multi-centennial scale, global temperature increase may affect the frequency of large-magnitude eruptions through deglaciation. Many conceptional models use the example of Iceland to suggest that post-glacial isostatic rebound will significantly increase decompression melting, and may already be increasing the amount of melt stored beneath Vatnajökull and several smaller Icelandic glaciers. Evidence for such a relationship existing in the past may be found in cryptotephra records from peat and lake sediments across northern Europe. At present, such records are incomplete, containing spatial gaps. As a significant increase in volcanic activity in Iceland would result in more frequent ash clouds over Europe, disrupting aviation and transport, developing an understanding of the relationship between the global climate and volcanism will greatly improve our ability to forecast and prepare for future events.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)238-247
    JournalEarth-Science Reviews
    Early online date20 Nov 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2018


    • Climate
    • Deglaciation
    • Tephra
    • Unloading effect
    • Volcanism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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