Can Volcanoes Help Cool The Earth? Scientists Are Preparing For The Next Big Eruption


Solutions to climate change often come in the form of cumulative steps instead of giant leaps. Perhaps it's because giant leaps sometimes come in artificial methods that could be pretty risky.

However, in the past, natural events like volcanic eruptions resulted in major steps toward cooling the planet, at least for a while. Scientists are now preparing for the next big eruption so they can study its potentially cooling effects.

Mount Tambora And Mount Pinatubo's Global Cooling Effect

In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia caused a global volcanic winter, resulting in "the year without a summer." It is the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history, and its effects were even felt as far as New York.

More recently, in 1991, the major eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines was felt across the globe. It caused a 1 degree Fahrenheit average global temperature drop in the following years.

Because of the past volcanic eruptions, scientists are now preparing to study the next major eruption in hopes of trying to understand the mechanism behind its cooling effects. Incidentally, Mount Agung in Bali has been erupting since November and could potentially result in a sizeable eruption that could cause a significant cooling effect.

Volcanic Eruptions And Geoengineering

What is geoengineering? Simply put, geoengineering is an attempt to reduce or mitigate the effects of climate change by directly altering certain parts of the Earth's natural systems. An example of this is the process of injecting the atmosphere with sulfate particles to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption.

Should scientists succeed in studying the cooling effects of a huge volcanic eruption, could it be possible for authorities to engage in new volcano-inspired geoengineering methods to combat climate change? It's possible, but the problem is that it may be too risky. It could potentially disrupt natural systems and even result in new natural disasters.

What's more, even if NASA is preparing to study the next major eruption, the agency still does not see geoengineering as a cure for climate change.

Geoengineering: A 'Self-Inflicted Wound'

"Geoengineering is not a cure. At best, it's a Band-Aid or tourniquet; at worst, it could be a self-inflicted wound," said Erik Conway of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2014.

That said, even if the United Nations has a ban on climate engineering, the organization stated in previous COP23 in Germany that the method must still be explored to fully understand its potential risks as well as to supplement greenhouse gas reduction methods, but not as a backup plan.

For other scientists, even if the resulting data gathered from a volcanic eruption will not be used to advance geoengineering, it would still be useful in trying to understand volcanoes and their impacts on the climate.

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