Volcanoes are openings or craters on a planet’s surface, which shoot out magma, ash and gases that are stored below the surface. Over 75% of the volcanoes on Earth are found in an area around the Pacific Ocean where tectonic plates meet. This area is known as The Ring of Fire. Volcanoes don’t all look like mountains the way that many of us probably think of them. There are other types as well such as those with wide plateaus and fissure vents. Volcanoes are also found on the ocean floor and under icecaps.

Volcanic activity and eruptions can change the climate on Earth for short and long stages of time. When gas and dust particles from a volcanic eruption are tossed into the air, they can warm or cool the surface of the earth depending on how the sunlight reacts to the volcanic material. Volcanic bits that are small, like sand particles, stay close to the volcano and plunge from the air in a matter of minutes. These bits of particles have little effect on the climate. Tiny ash particles that are thrown into the lower atmosphere are washed out when it rains. There does seem to be some evidence that volcanic eruptions play a role in reducing ozone levels but it is an indirect role. Volcanic eruptions also contribute to the warming of the atmosphere by adding carbon dioxide.

Volcanic dust that is thrown into the upper atmosphere, the stratosphere, can remain there for weeks and even months. Particles such as these block sunlight and cause some cooling over areas of the earth. Sulfuric gases that are secreted from large volcanic activity change into aerosols and can remain in the stratosphere 3-4 years. Common gases that are emitted from volcanoes are carbonic dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen sulfide.

The explosion of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 cooled global temperatures for over two years. The explosion sent ash and sulfur dioxide 12 miles into the atmosphere, which caused extensive damage and loss of life. Gases and solids from the explosion revolved around the Earth for three weeks. More than five cubic kilometers of material was ejected and created a flow of ash over 20 miles high. Volcanos such as this influence the climate because the amount of solar radiation that is reaching the surface of the earth is impacted. Temperatures lower, changing the patterns of the atmosphere.

In 1883 with the explosion of Krakatoa, wintry conditions were created with strong blizzards, record snowfalls worldwide and caused a drop in sea level. When Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in 1815, New York State had frost in the summer and New England had snowfall in June. The most destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States was in 1980 with Mount St. Helens. Erupting for nine hours over 500 million tons of ash poured out which lowered global temperatures.

There is no doubt that volcanic activity does contribute to climate change and contributes to the changing of the weather patterns even if we don’t see the damage until years down the road.