Volcano Mayon To
Cool World
Temperatures - Again
By Regan Morris
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - While villagers living near Mayon volcano in the Philippines are feeling the force of brutal eruptions almost daily, the rest of the world could feel Mayon's impact through cooler global temperatures.
Mayon has been blasting out rock, dust and boulders as big as houses for over a week and climate experts say if the dust makes it into the upper atmosphere, the stratosphere, it would form a veil over the Earth, preventing some of the Sun's heat from reaching the Earth's surface and causing temperatures to drop.
``You would expect to see a reduction in temperatures in two, three months' time in global terms of a few tenths of a degree,'' said Dr Jean Palutikof, Director of Internal Affairs of Britain's University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.
``Of course, there will be regional differences with immediate effects under the dust cloud,'' she told Reuters by telephone.
She said a small temperature change can have a big impact.
``It (a few tenths of a degree Celsius) sounds a small amount, but the global warming we all worry about is about 0.7 of a degree per year, because we're looking at global averages.''
While some regard man's hand in causing global warming as myth, most scientists agree that humans burning fossil fuels like coal and gas have contributed to the warming.
Nature's Revenge
Billowing, lava-spewing volcanoes, arguably nature at her most awesome, play a hand in slowing global warming.
``It is a paradox,'' meteorologist Peter Scholefield of the U.N. World Climate Program told Reuters by telephone from Geneva. ``In 1991-92 the temperatures were not as high as the year before, there was a definite dip after Pinatubo.''
Powerful Philippine volcano Mt Pinatubo was the last volcano to have an impact on global weather patterns. It erupted with astonishing force in 1991 killing 800 people and forcing thousands to evacuate.
Pinatubo blasted rock and dust 12 miles (20 km) into the atmosphere while Mayon has so far reached about eight miles (13 km) and Scholefield thinks that will make a difference.
``It (Mayon) might not have a major impact at this moment. If it goes up to 10-12 miles then conceivably it will significantly change global weather,'' he said.
But the effects wouldn't last long.
``Volcanoes don't contribute to long-term climate changes,'' Robert Fawcett, meteorologist with Australia's National Climate Centre, told Reuters.
``Expect temperatures cooling where the debris goes, the larger the volcano the larger the effect. But don't expect long-term effects.''
So where will the debris go? It depends which way the wind blows.
Ben Franklin To Frankenstein
Benjamin Franklin was the first to establish the link between volcanic eruptions and climate change when he suggested the bitterly cold winter of 1783-84 in Europe was a result of the dust cloud from the massive eruption of Iceland's Mt Laki in 1783.
If Mayon helps create a cooler summer in Europe or North America this year, it won't be the first time.
Mayon blew her top in 1814 and was closely followed by the deadly Tambora eruption of 1815 in Indonesia. Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa, killed more than 90,000 people and resulted in Europe's so-called ``year without summer'' in 1816, famous for giving birth to Mary Shelley's Gothic tale Frankenstein.
The late frosts of that cold, dark summer destroyed crops across Europe and kept Shelley and her husband Percy holed up on the shores of Lake Geneva at the house of Lord Byron, who suggested a ghost story writing contest to amuse them.
Percy Shelley and Lord Byron soon abandoned their efforts, but Mary persisted and a monster was indirectly created from an Indonesian volcano.
Tambora blasted millions of tons of rock and dust into the stratosphere. But Mayon's recent eruptions are not in the same ballpark. Farms at the foot of Mayon have been devastated, but the recent eruptions are unlikely to damage crops elsewhere.
``This eruption would have to get considerably worse to impact global crop yields and harvests,'' Palutikof said.
La Nina Overshadows Volcano
Palutikof said any cooling effects from the Mayon eruptions may be overshadowed by the La Nina weather phenomenon's recent wave of destruction.
``Because we are in such a strong La Nina, which is manifesting itself with floods in Mozambique, this change in temperature, compared to what is happening with La Nina, it's quite likely we won't be able to pick it out.''
Rains lashing southern Africa have prompted floods that have displaced at least one million Mozambicans.
La Nina, which is caused by a cooling of currents in the Pacific Ocean, can cause torrential downpours and is often associated with flooding.


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