Scientists at the University of Colorado in Boulder (USA) have found that volcanic ash has a greater impact on the Earth's climate than previously thought. An article describing the true danger of volcanoes to the atmosphere was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Experts analyzed data on the eruption of the Kelud volcano on the Indonesian island of Java in 2014 and developed a mathematical model that showed that ash remains in the atmosphere for several months or longer.
While sulfur-rich volcanic ash is able to block sunlight from reaching the surface, it is heavy enough to settle quickly without much effect. However, the results of the study showed that the volcanic plume contains a large number of light particles that can stay in the air for a long time.
The sulfur dioxide emitted by volcanoes was thought to interact with other molecules in the air and turn into sulfuric acid. This could theoretically take weeks, but new data suggests it can happen much faster. Sulfur dioxide molecules stick to ash particles floating in the air and undergo chemical reactions. Thus, ash accelerates the transformation of volcanic gases in the atmosphere.
In theory, long-term particles in the atmosphere can destroy the ozone layer, darken the planet, and even contribute to its cooling after an eruption. However, it remains unclear exactly how ash clouds affect the climate.