• Erin S.

Can we cool the Earth by causing a volcano to erupt?

If we could reduce the overall temperature of Earth by 1˚C, would that really make an impact on the climate? Climate change has the potential to increase the overall temperature by about 7˚C. Despite working towards sustainability measures, our planet would be majorly affected by the detrimental impacts of warming. Scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs have been working on this problem for several decades now with minimal consequence. So are there unconventional (and perhaps more natural) answers?

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted, ejecting 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and ash into the atmosphere. The sulfur dioxide eventually converted into sulfate aerosol and tiny particles of volcanic dust which circled the globe in three weeks. These particles reflected sunlight back into space, which ended up lowering Earth’s temperatures by about 0.5˚C. However, this volcano caused significant damage. Thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding area and the sky completely darkened, while ash and hazardous gases filled the air. Hot ash completely covered about 154 square miles of land around the volcano, destroying homes and blanketing the countryside.

That is not to say, however, that all volcanic eruptions would be capable of cooling the planet. If a volcano does not eject a large enough amount of sulfur dioxide, then there would be no possibility of global cooling. In fact, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases deriving from the eruption could cause significantly more harm to the environment. Nonetheless, if we were able to trigger a volcano eruption, we could in fact cool the planet! But it comes with significant cost, and the mechanism to cause a volcano to erupt has never been tested.

One possible method would be compressing the magma in the volcano. If we had a large enough buildup of magma and pressure, we could create a chemical reaction strong enough to force the lava to spew out, causing an eruption. Perhaps another crude solution is to drill a hole into the side of a volcano and drop in a lot of explosives.

However, all of these solutions come with risks. After all, volcanoes can kick some serious ash. Any volcano could destroy cities and natural habitats due to its lava flow and emit large amounts of gases with extreme force. Volcanic eruptions are entirely unpredictable since even if we were able to cause one, the eruption would still be uncontrolled. As of yet, there are no ways to divert the lava flow or reduce the amount of ash and pressure released by the volcano, making it a potentially life-threatening situation for the surrounding area.

If we could create a powerful enough eruption that would be safe and could cause a global temperature reduction, that would improve our overall environment. However, due to the unpredictable nature of volcanic eruptions, there’s a high likelihood this will not happen.

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