A Study of Five Unusual Volcanic Events Shows the Heat Is On for Climate Change

A sequence of unusual volcanic eruptions that occurred in the early nineteenth century reveal that we are far closer to designated maximum temperature increases when it comes to global warming.
Dana  Miller
Indications from new Swiss research suggest that global temperatures have risen much more than previously believed.Justinreznik/iStock

Our collective notions about the advancement of climate change on our planet may need a serious recalibration according to a study of five volcanic eruptions occuring between 1808 and 1835. A team lead by Stefan Brönnimann, a member of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR) and Professor of Climatology at the University of Bern, have identified what Brönnimann refers to as a "gear shift" in Earth's climate system during this extraordinary series of eruptions.

Why volcanic sequences matter to climate change

Utilizing model simulations centered on fresh climate reconstructions and atmopsheric circulation combined with observation-based data concerning the way our oceans respond to catacylsmic volcanic events like this, the internationl team at Bern found indications that it requires several decades for our climate system to regulate.

Volcanic sequences such as the one occuring between 1808 and 1835 show a signifcant shift in atmospheric circulation over the Atlantic-European zone and heavy impact on the Indian and African monsoon systems.


How does this affect current understandings of global warming?

The kicker here is the simultaneous low-pressure systems that the volcanic eruptions caused across Central Europe. With the final Alpine glacial advance occuring between the 1820s to the 1850s found to be directly linked to the heightened precipitation generated by this low-pressure/altered circulation combo, many don't realize that the "Little Ice Age" was immediately followed by what has been identified as the first phase of global warming.

By the 1940s, our human contribution to this condition reached a momentous apex and all of the commonly discussesd factors associated with the Industrial Revolution began to take shape. 

To find out what acclaimed geophysicist Peter Langdon Ward has to say about the impact of volcanoes on the history of climate change by watching the video below.

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So what does this mean for us?

As pre-industrial climates have proven notoriously hard to accurately pinpoint, this information represents proof that our current shared ideas about what constitutes an acceptable level of global temperature rise in our governmental climate targets needs reconsidering. Most countries have set targets between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius as a maximum allowable increase.

Brönnimann's study demonstrates that our initial reference point of 1850-1900 may not have given us the best representation of where our planet actually rests today in terms of overall warming. The data drawn from the Bern research, which highlights the first half of the nineteenth century, signals a global rise in temperature that is already close to 1.2 degrees Celsius.

We all knew that the heat has been on, but we now realize to a greater degree how much so, and our shared human responsibility to our environment should likewise follow the increase.

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