On Politics: Effect of volcanoes on global warming
December 14, 2017
Most folks picture Hawaii as a verdant tropical paradise with palm trees swaying in gentle breezes and year-round daytime temperature in the 80s.
That's pretty well true near sea level, but the Hawaiian Islands are all formed from volcanoes; Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the big Island of Hawaii both rise nearly 14,000 feet above sea level.
It was a very different Hawaii last month when we drove into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a week's stay at the Kilauea Military Camp. Both are located right adjacent the Kilauea Caldera at the 4,000 foot elevation on the slope of Mauna Loa. Ambient temperatures were in the 60s, and there were no palm trees.
A caldera is a large cauldron-like depression that forms following the evacuation of a magma (lava) chamber or reservoir. When large volumes of magma erupt over a short time, structural support for the crust above the chamber is lost.
The ground surface then collapses downward into the partially emptied magma. Within the caldera is the crater where the hot magma boils and spews sulfur dioxide gas and smoke. The Kilauea crater is about a half mile in diameter. Sitting at the bar of the Volcano House, overlooking the crater after dark, it's like a bird's eye view of Hell.
So what's all this National Geographic stuff doing in a column dubbed "on politics"? It occurred to me that if volcanoes emit sulfur dioxide gas, they may also emit carbon dioxide. I found the answer in the Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center.
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Indeed an explanatory sign stated "the world's volcanoes emit 21 million tons of CO2 every year, and that man-made CO2 amounts to 16 billion tons of CO2 annually." So Mother Nature is only responsible for a pittance of the world's CO2 emissions and I let it go at that. I'm not a scientist so I wasn't about to quibble with their figures.
I returned to Tahoe having been exposed to "volcanism" and a news story caught my eye. Scientists at the University of Alabama-Huntsville found that studies used by other scientists made a "glaring oversight" — their data didn't take into account volcanoes.
Scientists John Christy and Richard McNider recalibrated satellite temperature data to remove the effects of naturally occurring volcanic eruptions and found that the rate of global warming has been nearly unchanged in the last 30 years.
To clarify, it was not volcanic CO2 emissions that were ignored; it was the ash from volcanic eruptions in 1982 and 1991 that shielded large parts of the earth from the sun resulting in cooling because the sunlight was reflected back into space. That's when a major global warming study began.
So, according to Christy, the temperatures used at the start of the study were lower than normal causing "the overall record to show an exaggerated warming trend."
The December 2017 Scientific American reports on a U.S. Geological Survey study, which says the world's volcanoes generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide annually compared to 24 billion tons of man-made CO2. Hmmm. I wonder where the National Park Service got their figures.
The USGS acknowledges the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions, and says that even toxic sulfur dioxide gas can have a cooling effect when it reaches the stratosphere. A Columbia University study, reported in the United Kingdom's Daily Mail, found that underwater volcano CO2 emissions vary widely depending on the earth's orbit.
My curiosity about the effect of volcanoes on global warming showed that there does not appear to be any consensus among the experts. That raises the political question as to the wisdom of pushing massive economic takeovers, intentionally stunting our economy, and lining Al Gore's pockets based on alarmists' claim of "scientific certainty" about man-made global warming.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com