It is well known that when volcanos erupt and spew ash into the environment, those increased particles can block sunlight from reaching the earth and cause temperatures to drop. But now researchers have found that the opposite is true as well. When temperatures rise and glaciers melt quickly, changes in the stress on tectonic plates create more opportunities for magma to push its way out, increasing volcanic eruptions.

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Working with Harvard University, researchers from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany reconstructed the history of volcanic eruptions in Central America for the past 460,000 years, according to GEOMAR volcanologist Dr Steffen Kutterolf, who works with the Fluids and Volatiles in Subduction Zones (SFB 574) research center. This study revealed periods of high and low volcanic activity that showed uncanny parallels with climate history. “The periods of high volcanic activity followed fast, global temperature increases and associated rapid ice melting,” reports.

The researchers then studied the Pacific Ocean’s volcanic history and found similar results. “In times of global warming, the glaciers are melting on the continents relatively quickly. At the same time the sea level rises. The weight on the continents decreases, while the weight on the oceanic tectonic plates increases. Thus, the stress changes within in the earth to open more routes for ascending magma” says Dr Marion Jegen from GEOMAR.

However, scientists were quick to note that they can’t draw correlations between man-made global warming and volcanic activity, though they plan to study short-term variations in order to deepen their understanding of the relationship between rising temperatures, seas and volcano eruptions. These findings were originally published in the journal Geology.


Image of volcanic eruption near a city, melting glacier, Shutterstock