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WIREs Clim Change
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Modeling the climatic effects of large explosive volcanic eruptions

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Large volcanic eruptions are an important driving factor of natural climate variability. A sound assessment of the role of volcanoes in the climate system in comparison to other forcing factors is therefore a prerequisite for understanding future and past climate variability. New advances in understanding volcanic climate effects have been achieved by using comprehensive climate and Earth system models. New insights have been gained over the last decade about volcanic impacts on atmospheric composition and dynamics, but most notably also about their impact on ocean dynamics, the hydrological and the carbon cycle and on marine and terrestrial biogeochemistry. An important achievement is the improved understanding of the volcanic imprint on decadal to multidecadal time scales. Climate model simulations of past eruptions are highly dependent not only on the quality of the model and of the volcanologcial input data but also on the treatment of the aerosol size distribution in chemistry and radiation calculations. Further knowledge has to be achieved about the relation between the initial climate state at the time of the eruption and the volcanic climatic impact. A challenging task for climate models is also the simulation of the Northern Hemisphere winter climate response after a large tropical eruption. Model intercomparison studies and cross validations of model simulations with observations are essential to better constrain the radiative forcing of large volcanic eruptions and their climate impact. WIREs Clim Change 2012, 3:545–564. doi: 10.1002/wcc.192

This article is categorized under:

  • Climate Models and Modeling > Earth System Models
Figure 1.

Schematic overview of the climate effects after a very large volcanic eruption.21–23 (Reprinted with permission from Ref. 24 Copyright 2011 Elsevier Ltd.)

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Figure 2.

Globally averaged net radiative flux anomalies after the 1258 eruption (top) at the top of the atmosphere [W/m2], (middle) at the surface, and (bottom) near surface temperature anomalies [K]. Black line (R0.7): original data set (maximum reff = 0.7 µm); blue line (R0.2): same mass as in R0.7 but constant background effective radius (reff = 0.2 µm); red line (R1.3): same mass as in R0.7 but higher effective radius (doubled the increase in size about background) (maximum reff = 1.3 µm). Solid symbols indicate monthly mean values that are statistically significant at the 90% confidence level. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 53. Copyright 2009 American Geophysical Union)

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Figure 3.

Ensemble‐average simulated anomalies of winter Northern Hemisphere surface air temperatures for selected post‐eruption winters (indicated by the numbers on the top of each panel) from the Max Planck Institute—Earth system model simulations of the last Millennium.3 Crosses indicate regions where changes are statistically significant at 95% confidence according to the Mann–Whitney U test. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 29. Copyright 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.)

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