The history of the planet's biggest volcanic explosions - deep in the ice of Antarctica
Scientists have been able to trace the history of volcanic eruptions over the last 2,000 years by analysing deposits of sulphate dust in a series of ice cores drilled deep into the West Antarctic ice sheet
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Sunday 06 July 2014
Some of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the last 2,000 years have left their indelible mark deep within the pristine ice sheet of the Antarctic, a study has found.
Scientists have been able to trace the most complete history of volcanic eruptions since the birth of Christ by analysing deposits of sulphate dust in a series of ice cores drilled deep into the West Antarctic ice sheet.
The time series from 26 separate ice cores drilled out from 19 different sites shows that there were 116 volcanic eruptions in the past two millennia that were big enough to result in plumes of volcanic sulphate dust being transported as far as the South Pole.
Most the eruptions cannot be identified, however the biggest, in 1257, was already hinted at from medieval chronicles and tree rings. Scientists identified the sulphate deposits as coming from the Samalas volcano on Lombok Island of Indonesia.
The third biggest eruption, according to the ice cores, was Tambora in Indonesia, which exploded in 1815 and caused the “year without a summer” in 1816 as a result of volcanic dust in the atmosphere cutting out sunlight and lowering summer temperatures around the world. The atmospheric dust created spectacular sunsets, which were captured by the artist William Turner, and the prolonged summer rainfall forced Mary Shelley indoors where she wrote her most famous literary work, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
The second largest eruption in terms of sulphate deposits found in the Antarctic ice cores was the explosion of the Kuwae caldera near the Pacific island of Vanuatu, which erupted in 1458. Local folklore passed on through the generations described the near total destruction of the island leaving several dead and causing many others to flee to nearby islands. The volcanic record will be used to assess the impact that volcanoes have had on the recent past in terms of affecting global temperatures, which are depressed for several years as a result of volcanic dust in the upper atmosphere reducing sunlight and causing other weather disturbances such as prolonged rainfall.
“This record provides the basis of a dramatic improvement in existing reconstructions of volcanic emissions during recent centuries and millennia,” said Michael Sigl of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Among the top 10 eruptions were three that occurred respectively in 531, 566 and 674.
- 1 Michelle Rodriguez: Fast & Furious actor apologises after telling 'minorities' to stop taking on 'white' roles
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face the death penalty
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Robert Mugabe eats a zoo for 'obscene' 91st birthday party
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Michelle Rodriguez: Fast & Furious actor apologises after telling 'minorities' to stop taking on 'white' roles
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Putin critic may have been murdered by Islamic extremists, says president-led committee
British are sexually uptight, dirty and drink too much – according to Spanish book
Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face the death penalty
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...
£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...