Remember when Iceland’s volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted? By sending around 250 million cubic metres of ash into the sky it caused catastrophic levels of disruption to air travel resulting in many countries closing their airspace entirely.
That could be just a taste of what’s to come however as a new study has warned that as climate change gets worse, we’re likely to see more of Iceland’s volcanoes go up in smoke.
The study, carried out by the University of Leeds, examined the volcanic ash in peat deposits and lake sediments and found that there was a period when volcanic activity was at an all-time low.
This quiet period took place around 4,500-5,000 years ago when the planet was going through a deep cooling period resulting in considerable glacier growth.
As climate change warms the planets however, the researchers found that the complete opposite was starting to take place.
Dr Graeme Swindles, from the School of Geography at Leeds, said: “Climate change caused by humans is creating rapid ice melt in volcanically active regions. In Iceland, this has put us on a path to more frequent volcanic eruptions.”
The real problem though is predicting how quickly we can expect volcanic activity to increase.
In previous examples of cooling and warming humans weren’t a dominant influencer on the planet’s atmosphere and so it was easy for us to analyse and then observe how the planet recovered.
Of course now, humans are having a huge impact on the environment which in turn creates even more hurdles for the scientific community to overcome.
Dr Swindles said: “The human effect on global warming makes it difficult to predict how long the time lag will be but the trends of the past show us more eruptions in Iceland can be expected in the future.
An increase in volcanic eruptions would, almost ironically, have a deep cooling effect on the planet.
Now while you might think that could counter the warming by climate change, we actually rely on the temperature of the oceans to absorb some of the impact by volcanoes and then spread the fallout over a larger period of years.
If the ocean can’t do its job properly, then we can expect the temperature drops from these volcanoes to be more severe.
What’s clear though is that this is not by any means an exact science, and as our effect on the planet becomes more prominent it’s going to be even harder for scientists to predict what will happen.