Massive volcanic eruption in Scotland drove prehistoric global warming, scientists say

Rocks collected across Inner Hebrides provide first evidence for major Scottish event contributing to 8C increase in global temperature

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 24 January 2019 12:26
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A massive eruption on the Isle of Skye helped push the planet into a period of dramatic global warming millions of years ago, according to new research.

Evidence gathered from rocks scattered across the Inner Hebrides by a team of British and Swedish researchers revealed volcanic activity that coincided with an 8C surge in the world’s temperature.

When volcanoes erupt they can trigger periods of climate change as they inject large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The “Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum” that took place around 56 million years ago has previously been linked with a series of volcanic eruptions across the North Atlantic.

However, until now there was no evidence for any major eruptions taking place in Scotland.

Analysis of volcanic rocks known as pitchstones that appeared to have been deposited around 20 miles apart on the Inner Hebrides revealed they had identical chemical composition and texture, suggesting the rocky island outcrops were the result of a single, enormous explosion.

The scientists from Sweden’s Uppsala University and the Universities of Durham and St Andrews, were able to trace their origin to the Red Hills on Skye, around 25 miles further north.

This site was likely formed by an enormous vent at which the eruption began, according to their analysis published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The scientists compared the size of the eruption to Krakatoa in 1883, one of the most destructive volcanic events in recorded history.

Nearly 40,000 deaths have been attributed to the massive explosion in Indonesia, and its effects on global weather patterns were felt for years afterwards.

Fossils from around the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum showed that here too volcanoes appear to have had far-reaching effects.

The surge of CO2 in the atmosphere threw the climate into disarray for around 100,000 years, warming the atmosphere and turning the oceans acidic.

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This triggered the extinction of tiny sea creatures, while others massively expanded in number to fill their place.

With global temperatures once again rising due to humans pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, comparisons have been drawn with this prehistoric period of intense warming and modern climate change.

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