Hawaii’s Volcanic Effects

Hawaii’s Volcanic Effects

By: Chris Michaels

Recently, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted and sent an ash column 30,000 feet into the air. That’s just under cruising altitude for most airliners and led to many airport delays in the local area. While that is impressive, it likely is not enough to cause any global cooling episode in years to come.In order to impact the earth’s climate, the ash column would have needed to extend into the stratosphere. According to climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann, the stratosphere is roughly 46,000 feet above ground level. Meaning the ash is currently in the lower troposphere, where clouds, and most of the Earth’s other weather phenomena occur alongside airline flight paths. It is capped by the tropopause at the top which is a border between the troposphere and stratosphere, and can be difficult for particles to cross, since the temperature and density of the atmosphere is different for each layer.

Why would it have to reach the stratosphere to impact the climate? This is where aerosols released during the eruption can float without settling out of the atmosphere and reflect incoming solar radiation. That would, in turn, lead to cooler temperatures on Earth. We saw this happen in the early 1980s, after Mount St. Helens sent an ash column nearly 80,000 feet into the atmosphere.

Summary: Kilauea volcano is unlikely to directly change Earth’s climate on a significant scale due to the height of its major ash plume, which stayed below the level of the stratosphere.