Assessing the impact of very large volcanic eruptions on the risk of extreme climate events

Nicolas Freychet, Andrew Schurer, Andrew p Ballinger, Laura Suarez-Gutierrez, Claudia Timmreck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Very large volcanic eruptions have substantial impacts on the climate, causing global cooling and major changes to the hydrological cycle. While most studies have focused on changes to mean climate, here we use a large ensemble to assess the impact on extreme climate for three years following tropical and extratropical eruptions of different sulfur emission strength. We focus on the impact of an extremely large eruption, injecting 40 Tg sulfur into the stratosphere, which could be expected to occur approximately twice a millennium. Our findings show that the eruption would have a profound effect on large areas of the globe, resulting in extremely rare drought events that under normal circumstances would occur once every century becoming very likely. Several regions such as West Africa, South and East Asia and the Maritime continent are particularly affected with the expected climate shifting well outside the usual range, by up to 5 standard deviations. These results have important consequences as they indicate that a severe drought in multiple breadbasket regions should be expected following a large eruption. The risk of heavy rainfall tends to decrease over the same regions but by a reduced amount, heatwaves become extremely rare however the chance of extreme Winter cold surges do not increase by a corresponding amount, since widespread parts of the Northern Hemisphere display a winter warming. Our results show that the location of the eruption is crucial for the change in extremes, with overall changes larger for a Northern Hemisphere eruption than a tropical and Southern Hemisphere eruption, although there is a regional dependency. Simulations of different eruptions with similar forcing distributions but with different sizes are consistent with a linear relationship, however for smaller eruptions the internal variability tends to become dominant and the effect on extreme climate less detectable.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research: Climate
Early online date9 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Aug 2023


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