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Erupting volcano in Papua New Guinea could lead to cooler climate for several years

Volcanologists and climatologists are watching the current eruption of  Mount Tavurvur in Papua New Guinea closely to see how long and intense the current eruption lasts.  The volcano erupted so strongly on Friday that Qantas airline had to reroute flights between Sydney and Tokyo as well as Sydney and Shanghai to avoid the clouds of ash being pushed all the way up into the stratosphere.  If the ash is ingested into aircraft engines, it can lead to shutting the engines down and is also the concern of a newly erupting volcano in Iceland.

Climatologists are concerned because strong volcanic eruptions, particularly those in equatorial regions, can lead to cooler conditions (and spectacular sunsets) for several years following the eruption.  The cause: reflection of sunlight back to space from small sulfuric acid droplets that are lofted high into the atmosphere.  These drops, which act like the reflective glass beads in stop signs, reduce the amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, effectively cooling it off until the droplets fall out over time.  Known eruptions with climate effects include Mount Pinatubo in 1992 and Mount Tambora in 1815 (“The year without a summer”).  It is too early yet to see if this new eruption will put out enough sulfuric acid droplets to cause impacts on climate, but we will continue to watch it to determine future impacts, if any.

For a story on the eruption and its impacts from Mashable, click here.