Looking at volcanoes in Iceland, Italy and California…realizing “they have the capacity to disrupt and override all of our collective efforts aimed at controlling GHG concentrations.”
I have been monitoring the reports coming from Iceland after the nation declared an emergency and issued evacuation orders for a popular tourist location, as 1,400 earthquakes were recorded in 24 hours, indicating a volcanic eruption could be imminent.
The earthquakes are continuing, and a nearly 10-mile magma tunnel appears underneath the evacuated town. It appears that there is much more magma associated with this developing event than there was with the 2021 eruption of Fagradalsfjall.
According to the Icelandic Met Office (IMO), a magma tunnel stretching 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) formed beneath the ground between Sundhnúkur in the north and Grindavík. The area affected also encompasses the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa — a tourist hotspot that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
Magma in the tunnel — also known as a dike — appears to be rising to the surface, and there is a high risk of it breaking through. The greatest area of magma upwelling is currently close to Sundhnúkur, about 2 miles (3.5 km) northeast of Grindavík, according to the IMO.
Researchers believe the amount of magma in the tunnel is “significantly more” than what was present during the eruptions at Fagradalsfjall, which sparked back to life in 2021 after more than 800 years of inactivity.
Reviewing the data, Edward W. Marshall (a researcher at the University of Iceland’s Nordic Volcanological Center) suggested that the potentially imminent eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsula is part of a 1,000-year cycle of volcanic activity that will likely go on for centuries.
Attention is now turning to two super-volcanoes, as seismic activity around them may indicate large deposits of magma are now on the move.
In recent months, more than a thousand minor earthquakes have rattled the area around the Campi Flegrei volcano in southern Italy, stoking fears that it may soon erupt again after nearly five centuries. Some 6,000 miles away, scientists have for decades recorded similarly small earthquakes and instances of ground deformation at the Long Valley Caldera, a volcano in eastern California that sits adjacent to Mammoth Mountain.
But does all this seismic unrest really portend a volcanic eruption? It sort of depends on whom you ask.
Most experts say there is no immediate threat of an eruption at either Long Valley or Campi Flegrei. Both volcanoes are calderas — sprawling depressions created long ago by violent “super-eruptions” that essentially collapsed in on themselves — which are often more challenging to forecast compared to the large mountain-shaped features that people typically imagine when they think of volcanoes.
The Italian city of Naples and its surrounding towns are all near Campi Flegrei, and have developed plans to evacuate tens of thousands of people from the area. Researchers focused on the Long Valley Caldera indicate the seismic activity may be associated with cooling rock, and there is far less jeopardy of a major eruption…which is good news for me, living in California as I do.
New research on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea signifies a long history of periodic super-volcanic eruptions from Campi Flegrei impacting Europe at a regular cycle of 10,000 to 15,000 years.
Huge “megabeds” from ancient supervolcano eruptions are hiding at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, researchers have found. Their discovery points to a cycle of catastrophic events that appear to hit the region every 10,000 to 15,000 years.
Megabeds are huge submarine deposits that form in marine basins as a result of catastrophic events like volcanic eruptions.
The researchers found the beds while investigating deposits at the bottom of the Tyrrhenian Sea, near the coast of Italy, close to a large underwater volcano.
…The oldest megabed formed after a huge eruption from Campi Flegrei 39,000 years ago — one of the biggest known eruptions on Earth. The same eruption may also have created the second bed, as the layer between the two is just 3.2 feet (1 m) — indicating a relatively short interval between the two events.
One question that many people ask is how much greenhouse gas volcanic eruptions give off. Geologist and climate expert Dr. Matthew Wielicki thoroughly answers this question, looking at emissions data from direct and indirect measurements.
Although, large volcanoes can have emission rates that are equivalent to humans for a short time. For example, Mount St. Helens is estimated to have emitted up to 25 million tonnes of CO2 per hour during the first few hours of its eruption in 1980. This is equivalent to the daily CO2 emissions of a small country like Estonia, for the first few hours of the nine-hour eruption. It is important to note that such eruptions are rather [rare].
….However, looking at the geological record, there have been periods where volcanic activity, especially from super-volcanic eruptions, released massive quantities of GHGs, exceeding all human emissions.
For example, the Central Magmatic Province (CAMP) is a large igneous province (LIP) that formed approximately 200 million years ago. It is one of the largest LIPs on Earth, and it is thought to have been formed by a series of eruptions. The CAMP is estimated to have released between 6.5 and 13.4 trillion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to approximately 100-200 years of human CO2 emissions at current rates.
In summary: Everyday volcanic activity does not release significant amounts of CO2 when compared with human activity, but one large eruption – especially from a super-volcano – is a greenhouse gas game-changer:
It’s essential to recognize that volcanoes underscore the unpredictable and erratic nature of the climate system, where at any given moment, they have the capacity to disrupt and override all of our collective efforts aimed at controlling GHG concentrations.
"Large volcanic eruptions indeed have the potential to release substantial quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, surpassing humanity's contributions in isolated magmatic pulses. However, current estimates of CO2 emissions from all active volcanoes consistently… pic.twitter.com/GMR2Ofrp3f
— Dr. Matthew M. Wielicki (@MatthewWielicki) November 14, 2023
I think the last statement would offer a valuable lesson in humility for those who would try to control climate by micromanaging the concentration of a life-essential gas.DONATE
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