Re­searchers doc­u­ment one of planet’s largest vol­canic erup­tions

Iran Daily - - Science & Technology -

trav­el­ers in the Columbia Gorge and most of Eastern Wash­ing­ton. The re­searchers say it is “the largest mapped flood basalt unit on Earth”.

The re­searchers es­ti­mate that, over tens of thou­sands of years, the floods put out between 242 and 305 bil­lion tons of sul­fur diox­ide. That’s more than 4,000 times the out­put of the 1815 Mount Tamb­ora erup­tion in present-day In­done­sia. That erup­tion blan­keted the Earth in an aerosol veil, cre­at­ing the ‘Year With­out A Sum­mer’ and food short­ages across the north­ern hemi­sphere.

The vol­ume of gas emit­ted from the Wap­shilla Ridge lavas, said the re­searchers, “is equiv­a­lent to a Tamb­ora erup­tion ev­ery day for 11 to 16 years”.

Most of the lava’s gases were re­leased dur­ing the erup­tions, but some of the gas re­mained trapped in crys­tals near the vol­canic vents.

Klarissa Davis, lead au­thor of the pa­per, an­a­lyzed the gases as part of her doc­toral stud­ies. The other au­thors are Michael Rowe, now at the Univer­sity of Auck­land, and Owen Neill, now at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan.

Wolff put the erup­tion into one of three classes of cat­a­clysms, the other two be­ing a caldera erup­tion like the Yel­low­stone vol­cano and the im­pact of an as­ter­oid.

A sim­i­lar erup­tion to­day “would dev­as­tate mod­ern society glob­ally”, said Wolff.

The erup­tion also pro­vides an in­sight into the work­ings of cli­mate change. It took place in what is known as the Miocene Cli­mac­tic Op­ti­mum, or MCO, when some 50 mil­lion years of cool­ing was in­ter­rupted by 5 to 6 de­grees Fahren­heit of warm­ing. But at its peak, the MCO had a brief cool­ing pe­riod that co­in­cides with the Wap­shilla erup­tion and its pro­fu­sion of sul­fur diox­ide.

Sul­fur diox­ide is now bandied about as a pos­si­ble tool for en­gi­neer­ing a break in the Earth’s cur­rent warm­ing trend, though Wolff is not par­tic­u­larly keen on the idea.

“I per­son­ally think that it’s prob­a­bly a dan­ger­ous thing to do with­out un­der­stand­ing all of the pos­si­ble con­se­quences,” he said.

“But maybe we’re get­ting an idea of some pos­si­ble con­se­quences here.”

SHUTTERSTOCK

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