, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 553-564
Date: 22 May 2007

The climatic impact of supervolcanic ash blankets

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Abstract

Supervolcanoes are large caldera systems that can expel vast quantities of ash, volcanic gases in a single eruption, far larger than any recorded in recent history. These super-eruptions have been suggested as possible catalysts for long-term climate change and may be responsible for bottlenecks in human and animal populations. Here, we consider the previously neglected climatic effects of a continent-sized ash deposit with a high albedo and show that a decadal climate forcing is expected. We use a coupled atmosphere-ocean General Circulation Model (GCM) to simulate the effect of an ash blanket from Yellowstone volcano, USA, covering much of North America. Reflectivity measurements of dry volcanic ash show albedo values as high as snow, implying that the effects of an ash blanket would be severe. The modeling results indicate major disturbances to the climate, particularly to oscillatory patterns such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Atmospheric disruptions would continue for decades after the eruption due to extended ash blanket longevity. The climatic response to an ash blanket is not significant enough to instigate a change to stadial periods at present day boundary conditions, though this is one of several impacts associated with a super-eruption which may induce long-term climatic change.