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Volcanic winter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A volcanic winter is a reduction in global temperatures caused by volcanic ash and droplets of sulfuric acid and water obscuring the Sun and raising Earth's albedo (increasing the reflection of solar radiation) after a large, particularly explosive volcanic eruption. Long-term cooling effects are primarily dependent upon injection of sulfur gasses into the stratosphere where they undergo a series of reactions to create sulfuric acid which can nucleate and form aerosols.[1] Volcanic stratospheric aerosols cool the surface by reflecting solar radiation and warm the stratosphere by absorbing terrestrial radiation.[2] The variations in atmospheric warming and cooling result in changes in tropospheric and stratospheric circulation.[1]

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  • ✪ Can You Survive A Nuclear Winter?
  • ✪ What Does Nuclear Fallout Do To Your Body?
  • ✪ How Can A Cockroach Survive A Nuclear Explosion?
  • ✪ GSM Update 11/2/18 - Winter Instead of Fall - Seismic Uptick - NASA Loses Another Satellite - Etna


This video was made possible by WIX. If you are ready to create a website, head over to to try out one of their premium plans right now. The earth goes through periodic cooling periods known as Ice Ages, with the last Ice Age ending a few tens of thousands of years ago. Today we are resting comfortably in the middle of a mild climate period, which means moderate winters in most places around the world and year-long sunshine in California. But today we're also capable of changing the environment artificially, and are already doing so via uncontrolled release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which are warming the planet. But with thousands of nuclear weapons around the world primed to detonate, that warming trend could very quickly reverse and send us straight into a man-made ice age. Hello and welcome to another episode of The Infographics Show- today we're asking: how can we survive a nuclear winter? The legendary astrophysicist Carl Sagan co authored a paper in the 1980s called Climate and Smoke: An Appraisal of Nuclear Winter. In this earth-shattering essay, Sagan and his partner, James B. Pollack, studied the physical effects a nuclear war would have on our planet, and discovered that not only would such a war devastate nations, but it could potentially disrupt the global climate. By vaporizing debris and filling the atmosphere with ash, soot and aerosols, a nuclear war would result in global dust clouds that would block the sun's rays for years, preventing the sun's energy from reaching the surface of the planet. This would trigger a cascade cooling effect which would plummet global temperatures by as much as 22 degrees Celsius- turning sunny California into something more akin to blustery Seattle. The world would enter an artificial ice age. Though recent studies have shown that Sagan and Pollack's original estimates may have been a bit overzealous, our environment is incredibly fragile and even a ten degree drop in temperature would have dramatic repercussions. Not only would lower temperatures severely shorten growing seasons for crops, but all of that blocked sunlight would send weather and ocean current patterns that help keep the world mild today into disarray. The North Atlantic Drift is an ocean current that brings warm water heated by the sun in the equator into northern Europe, which in turn is why Europe is so far north yet enjoys mild weather and warm summers. With a decline in sunshine this current will completely shut down, and without warm water being circulated around Europe and into the Mediterranean, Europe would begin to see weather closer to what is common in Canada today. Spain and France's famous summertime beach destinations would be a thing of the past, and in fact pretty much the entire Mediterranean would be far too chilly to go for a swim in. But it wouldn't be just sunny beaches that are a casualty of a nuclear winter- the North Atlantic Drift also helps bring favorable weather for growing crops to Europe, and without it Europe would experience a catastrophic crop collapse during what little growing season may be left due to all the dust in the atmosphere. The east coast of the US is also dependent on ocean currents for its mild weather, and a global cooling that reached the equator would shut down the Gulf Stream along the US's shores. Originating in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Stream circulates warm water up along the east coast of the US and into southern Canada, helping bring mild temperatures to the area during spring and summer. Chilly temperatures would be hard enough to deal with, but all of that blocked sunlight would then also shorten growing seasons for crops. With much reduced sunlight, humanity would be unable to grow enough crops to feed everyone alive today, and mass starvation would ensue. If current stockpiles of non-perishable goods could be evenly and fairly distributed- a doubtful circumstance in a post-apocalyptic world- it's possible that the majority of the population could survive a short-term nuclear winter. The length and severity of a nuclear winter would ultimately depend on the amount of weapons exchanged between combatants, but even a small, regional exchange of just a few hundred low-yield weapons is estimated to plunge the earth into a ten year nuclear winter. Even with today's large stockpiles of non-perishable goods, there's simply no way the majority of the population could survive a decade of famine. Those that do survive however would face crippling vitamin and mineral deficiencies, leading to disease and illness which would further decimate humanity's plunging population. In the midst of a nuclear winter you'd probably be delighted to see a few shafts of sunlight through clouds full of choking dust- but beware, that sunlight could be lethal. That's because a nuclear war would destroy the ozone layer, meaning there would be very little protection from the sun's harmful UV rays. Unless you slather up in the most powerful sunscreen you can find, basking in the sun for too long will result in severe sunburns and cancers. Your eyes would be especially sensitive to that intense UV radiation, and it would be vital to wear goggles or sunglasses with UV filters in order to keep yourself from going blind. Because UV rays can damage your eye without you even feeling it, your vision could become severely impaired without you realizing what was happening until it was too late. A nuclear winter would clearly be a nightmare scenario, but it might be survivable- after all your ancestors already did. That's right, you are the descendant of a very small group of humans who survived an ancient nuclear winter. 75,000 years ago a supervolcano in modern-day Lake Toba, Sumatra, erupted with a fury equivalent to thousands of nuclear bombs, and was 100 times greater than the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora which resulted in 1816's “year without a summer”. Injecting six billion tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, the eruption dropped global temperatures by 3-5 degrees Celsius for three years, and further cooling lasting decades. Though scientists differ on the severity of the cooling, the Toba supereruption is widely credited with creating a genetic bottleneck in human evolution, during which the human population dropped suddenly to a surviving population of only about 3,000 to 10,000 individuals. So though a nuclear winter sounds bad, know that you are already genetically predisposed to survive one! But how exactly can you help your odds of survival? First you'll want to tackle your greatest threat: the cold. Insulating your home will be critical to keeping warm, and if you don't know anything about insulation or construction, now is a good time to learn at least how to use spray foam insulation materials. Fuel supplies will run critically low very quickly, and even trees may become scarce if there's not enough sunlight for them to grow- you're going to want to keep out as much cold as possible, while keeping in as much heat as you can at all times. Secondly you'll want to secure a fresh water drinking supply. A nuclear winter may paradoxically not necessarily result in snow, as disrupted weather patterns and a lack of evaporation, and thus precipitation, may turn the world into a frozen desert. Even if there is snow where you are though, it is likely to be highly contaminated with radioactive or other particles from the trillions of tons of debris ejected into the atmosphere by the nuclear bombs. Emergency water filters will be critical for your health, as well as water purification tablets and possibly iodine pills for radiation poisoning. It goes without saying that intense radiation will also be a hazard, but you are in fact not very likely to be irradiated in a nuclear winter as long as you stay out of ground zero blast zones. That's because a nuclear weapon is designed to air burst- or explode several hundred to a few thousand meters above its target. This is because if the bomb were to explode on the ground, the blast wave would be mitigated by terrain and buildings, severely limiting the explosive potential of a nuclear bomb. High up in the air though a blast wave can spread for several miles without being dampened by hilly terrain or dense clusters of buildings. An airburst detonation will also ensure that the majority of the radiation from an explosion will actually be projected upwards into space, while a ground burst detonation will irradiate millions of tons of soil which will be carried by the wind. So stay out of large craters and you shouldn't be turning into a Fallout-style Ghoul anytime soon. Your third concern will be to secure a food supply. This may be trickier than finding water or keeping warm as even perishable goods will quickly become scarce, and with most nuclear weapons aimed at major manufacturing and distribution centers it's unlikely you'll find much that will be safe to scavenge without irradiating yourself. Hunting and fishing may seem a viable alternative, but the world operates on a complex food web with organisms feeding on each other, and at the very bottom of that food web sits the sun. It doesn't matter if you're a polar bear or an antarctic leopard seal, the food you eat inevitably eats food that in turns eats something that grows thanks to the sun. Polar bears for instance hunt seals, who in turn hunt small fish, who in turn feed on krill or plankton which depend on the sun. Global food chains will collapse inevitably, but with a severely diminished population you just might be able to eke out enough hunting and fishing to survive. If not, well, there's always billions of freshly barbequed human bodies laying around..... A nuclear winter would decimate civilization, and possibly drive humanity to the brink of extinction- but this isn't a threat we haven't faced before. As the Toba super volcano showed us, we as a species have what it takes to survive and thrive in the face of any disaster, and with these catastrophes acting as genetic bottlenecks, our children will be even more capable of surviving whatever the future throws at them. Nuclear winters can be survivable, but having a terrible website for your business definitely isn’t! Luckily, Wix has your back with over 500 fully customizable templates that are as easy to use as drag-and-drop. And if you’re really in a rush or just can’t make up your mind, why not let Wix’s ADI feature make you a custom site just by answering a few simple questions? Go to or click the link in the description below and check out for yourself how easy it is to make a unique and stunning site that’s perfect for you! How would you survive a nuclear winter? What would be your action plan? Let us know in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video what to if there is a nuclear explosion. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.


Historic examples

The effects of volcanic eruptions on recent winters are modest in scale, but historically have been significant.

1991: Most recently, the 1991 explosion of Mount Pinatubo, a stratovolcano in the Philippines, cooled global temperatures for about 2–3 years.[3]

1883: The explosion of Krakatoa (Krakatau) created volcanic winter-like conditions. The four years following the explosion were unusually cold, and the winter of 1887–1888 included powerful blizzards.[4] Record snowfalls were recorded worldwide.

1815: The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, a stratovolcano in Indonesia caused what came to be known as the "Year Without a Summer" of 1816. Europe, still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars, suffered from food shortages. Food riots broke out in the United Kingdom and France, and grain warehouses were looted. The violence was worst in landlocked Switzerland, where famine caused the government to declare a national emergency. Huge storms and abnormal rainfall with flooding of Europe's major rivers (including the Rhine) are attributed to the event, as is the August frost. A major typhus epidemic occurred in Ireland between 1816 and 1819, precipitated by the famine. An estimated 100,000 Irish perished during this period. A BBC documentary, using figures compiled in Switzerland, estimated that the fatality rates in 1816 were twice that of average years, giving an approximate European fatality total of 200,000 deaths. The corn crop in Northeastern North America failed, due to mid-summer frosts in New York State and June snowfalls in New England and Newfoundland and Labrador The crop failures in New England, Canada, and parts of Europe also caused the price of wheat, grains, meat, vegetables, butter, milk, and flour to rise sharply.

1783: The eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland released enormous amounts of sulfur dioxide, resulting in the death of much of the island's livestock and a catastrophic famine which killed a quarter of the Icelandic population. It has been estimated that 23,000 British people died from the poisoning.[5] Northern hemisphere temperatures dropped by about 1 °C in the year following the Laki eruption. The winter of 1783–1784 was very severe, and estimated to have caused 8,000 additional deaths in the UK. The meteorological impact of Laki continued, contributing significantly to several years of extreme weather in Europe. In France, the sequence of extreme weather events contributed significantly to an increase in poverty and famine that may have contributed to the French Revolution in 1789.[6] Laki was only one factor in a decade of climatic disruption, as Grímsvötn was erupting from 1783 to 1785, and there may have been an unusually strong El Niño effect from 1789 to 1793.[7] A paper written by Benjamin Franklin in 1783[8] blamed the unusually cool summer of 1783 in North America on volcanic dust coming from this eruption, though Franklin's proposal has been questioned.[9]

1600: The Huaynaputina in Peru erupted. Tree ring studies show that 1601 was cold. Russia had its worst famine in 1601–1603. From 1600 to 1602, Switzerland, Latvia and Estonia had exceptionally cold winters. The wine harvest was late in 1601 in France, and in Peru and Germany, wine production collapsed. Peach trees bloomed late in China, and Lake Suwa in Japan froze early.[10]

1452 or 1453: A cataclysmic eruption of the submarine volcano Kuwae caused worldwide disruptions.

1315-1317: The Great Famine of 1315–1317 in Europe may have been precipitated by a volcanic event,[11] perhaps that of Mount Tarawera, New Zealand, lasting about five years.[12]

1257: The 1257 Samalas eruption in Indonesia. The eruption left behind a large caldera next to Rinjani, with Lake Segara Anak inside it.[13] This eruption probably had a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 7, making it one of the largest eruptions of the current Holocene epoch. An examination of ice cores showed a large spike in sulfate deposition around 1257. This was strong evidence of a large eruption having occurred somewhere in the world. In 2013, scientists proved that the eruption occurred at Mount Samalas. This eruption had four distinct phases, alternately creating eruption columns reaching tens of kilometres into the atmosphere and pyroclastic flows burying large parts of Lombok Island. The flows destroyed human habitations, including the city of Pamatan. Ash from the eruption fell as far away as Java Island. The volcano deposited more than 10 cubic kilometres (2.4 cu mi) of material. The eruption was witnessed by people who recorded it on palm leaves, the Babad Lombok. Later volcanic activity created additional volcanic centres in the caldera, including the Barujari cone that remains active. The aerosols injected into the atmosphere reduced the solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface, which cooled the atmosphere for several years and led to famines and crop failures in Europe and elsewhere, although the exact scale of the temperature anomalies and their consequences is still debated. It is possible that the eruption helped trigger the Little Ice Age.

535: The extreme weather events of 535–536 are most likely linked to a volcanic eruption. The latest theorised explanation is the Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) eruption of the Ilopango caldera in central El Salvador.[14]

A proposed volcanic winter occurred around 71,000–73,000 years ago following the supereruption of Lake Toba on Sumatra island in Indonesia. In the following 6 years there was the highest amount of volcanic sulphur deposited in the last 110,000 years, possibly causing significant deforestation in Southeast Asia and the cooling of global temperatures by 1 °C.[15] Some scientists hypothesize that the eruption caused an immediate return to a glacial climate by accelerating an ongoing continental glaciation, causing massive population reduction among animals and human beings. Others argue that the climatic effects of the eruption were too weak and brief to impact early human populations to the degree proposed.[15] This, combined with the abrupt occurrence of most human differentiations in that same period, is a probable case of bottleneck linked to volcanic winters (see Toba catastrophe theory). On average, super-eruptions with total eruptive masses of at least 1015 kg (Toba eruptive mass = 6.9 × 1015 kg) occur every 1 million years.[16] However, archaeologists who in 2013 found a microscopic layer of glassy volcanic ash in sediments of Lake Malawi, and definitively linked the ash to the 75,000-year-old Toba super-eruption, went on to note a complete absence of the change in fossil type close to the ash layer that would be expected following a severe volcanic winter. This result led the archaeologists to conclude that the largest known volcanic eruption in the history of the human species did not significantly alter the climate of East Africa.[17][18]

Effects on life

The causes of the population bottleneck – a sharp decrease in a species' population, immediately followed by a period of great genetic divergence (differentiation) among survivors – is attributed to volcanic winters by some researchers. Such events may diminish populations to "levels low enough for evolutionary changes, which occur much faster in small populations, to produce rapid population differentiation".[19] With the Lake Toba bottleneck, many species showed massive effects of narrowing of the gene pool, and Toba may have reduced the human population to between 15,000 and 40,000 or even fewer.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Robock, Alan (2000). "Volcanic eruptions and climate". Reviews of geophysics 38 (2): 191–219. doi:10.1029/1998RG000054
  2. ^ Santer, Benjamin D et al. (2014). "Volcanic contribution to decadal changes in tropospheric temperature". Nature Geoscience 7, 185–189. doi:10.1038/ngeo2098
  3. ^ Brohan, P.; J.J. Kennedy; I. Haris; S.F.B. Tett; P.D. Jones (2006). "Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850". Journal of Geophysical Research. 111 (D12): D12106. Bibcode:2006JGRD..11112106B. CiteSeerX doi:10.1029/2005JD006548.
  4. ^ University of Minnesota. "With a Bang: Not a Whimper" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-22.
  5. ^ "When a killer cloud hit Britain". BBC News. January 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  6. ^ Wood, C.A., 1992. "The climatic effects of the 1783 Laki eruption" in C. R. Harrington (Ed.), The Year Without a Summer? Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, pp. 58–77
  7. ^ Richard H. Grove, "Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño," Nature 393 (1998), 318–319.
  8. ^ James Hansen (January 1997). "Pinatubo Climate Investigation". NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
  9. ^ Funkhouser, David (2011-04-05). "Maybe Ben Franklin was wrong". State of the Planet. Earth Institute, Columbia University. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  10. ^ University of California – Davis (April 25, 2008). "Volcanic Eruption of 1600 Caused Global Disruption". ScienceDaily.
  11. ^ Cantor, Norman L. (2001). In the wake of the plague: the Black Death and the world it made. New York: Free Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-684-85735-0.
  12. ^ Nairn I.A.; Shane P.R.; Cole J.W.; Leonard G.J.; Self S.; Pearson N. (2004). "Rhyolite magma processes of the ~AD 1315 Kaharoa eruption episode, Tarawera volcano, New Zealand". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 131 (3–4): 265–94. Bibcode:2004JVGR..131..265N. doi:10.1016/S0377-0273(03)00381-0.
    Hodgson K.A.; Nairn I.A. (September 2005). "The c. AD 1315 syn-eruption and AD 1904 post-eruption breakout floods from Lake Tarawera, Haroharo caldera, North Island, New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 48 (3): 491. doi:10.1080/00288306.2005.9515128.
  13. ^ Reid, Anthony (2016). "Building Cities in a Subduction Zone: Some Indonesian Dangers". In Miller, Michelle Ann; Douglass, Mike. Disaster Governance in Urbanising Asia. Springer Singapore. p. 51. doi:10.1007/978-981-287-649-2_3. ISBN 978-981-287-649-2.
  14. ^ Dull, R.; J.R. Southon; S. Kutterolf; A. Freundt; D. Wahl; P. Sheets (13–17 December 2010). "Did the TBJ Ilopango eruption cause the AD 536 event?". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. 13: V13C–2370. Bibcode:2010AGUFM.V13C2370D.
  15. ^ a b Oppenheimer C. (2003). "Limited global change due to the largest known Quaternary eruption, Toba ~ 74 Kyr BP". Quaternary Science Reviews. 21 (14–15): 1593–609. Bibcode:2002QSRv...21.1593O. doi:10.1016/S0277-3791(01)00154-8.
  16. ^ Mason B.G.; Pyle D.M.; Oppenheimer C. (2004). "The size and frequency of the largest explosive eruptions on Earth". Bulletin of Volcanology. 66 (8): 735–48. Bibcode:2004BVol...66..735M. doi:10.1007/s00445-004-0355-9.
  17. ^ "Doubt over 'volcanic winter' after Toba super-eruption. 2013". 2013-05-02. Retrieved 2013-08-05.
  18. ^ Lane, Christine S.; Chorn, Ben T.; Johnson, Thomas C. (24 April 2013). "Ash from the Toba supereruption in Lake Malawi shows no volcanic winter in East Africa at 75 ka". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (20): 8025–9. Bibcode:2013PNAS..110.8025L. doi:10.1073/pnas.1301474110. PMC 3657767. PMID 23630269. Retrieved 16 April 2018 – via
  19. ^ a b Burroughs, William James (2005). Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos, Cambridge University Press, p. 139 ISBN 978-0521824095

Further reading

This page was last edited on 12 March 2019, at 17:52
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