Researchers have discovered evidence of a massive volcanic eruption that may help explain our planet’s climatic history—and perhaps how to deal with climate problems today.
The team of scientists were led by Klarissa Davis and John Wolff. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Geology.
An Eruption of Tens of Thousands of Years Shook Oregon and Washington
After a closer look at ashes from the Columbia River Basalts, the team discovered volcanic glass. They believe that about 16.5 million years ago, there was a huge eruption in the region that is now Oregon and Washington. And not just a short, simple blast, either—they believe that the eruption went on for tens of thousands of years.
If this blast was as big as they believe, it would have been one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the planet’s history, and added somewhere between 242 and 305 billion tons of sulfur dioxide into the air. For comparison, the 1815 Mount Tambora event, one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, was thousands of times smaller, but had enough of an effect on the planet’s climate that the entire world experienced a “Year Without a Summer.”
This is significant because, as Wolff explained, this eruption happened around the time that Earth was in the Miocene Climatic Optimum, an unusually warm period; after this peak, however, the world suddenly became cooler for hundreds of thousands of years. His team believes that this eruption in the Pacific Northwest may have been the cause of the cooling, but they need a closer look to prove this.
Nowadays, scientists have wondered if the same sulfur dioxide these volcanoes produced could help combat global warming. “In principle it should certainly work,” said Wolff. “However there are side effects that may be unacceptable, acid rain being the most obvious one.”
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