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Increasing volcanic activity may lead to additional global cooling

| November 8, 2010 8:00 PM

In the past 10 days or so, we've seen a rather dramatic increase in volcanic eruptions that has many scientists greatly concerned.

Indonesia's Mount Merapi has erupted multiple times since Oct. 30. Dozens of people have been killed. Thous-ands have lost their homes and property due to the expanded lava flows. Wednes-day's blast was the biggest yet.

The Indonesian government has raised the alert levels for 21 other volcanoes that have shown increased activity in recent weeks, twice the usual number.

No additional casualties were reported from Mount Merapi's latest blasts, which came as Indonesia struggled to respond to an earthquake-generated tsunami that devastated a remote chain of islands in late October. That quake registered a magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter Scale and killed nearly 500 people.

This past week, the Indonesian government ordered airlines to choose routes circumventing the towering clouds of ash. Problems with takeoffs and landings were reported.

Indonesia is a vast archipelago of 235 million people that is prone to both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and, occasionally deadly tsunamis. It sits in the middle of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire,' a horseshoe-shaped string of fault lines surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

Earlier this year, there were extended periods of time when flights to Europe were diverted due to a series of volcanic eruptions on Iceland. More eruptions there will be likely in the next several years.

On Thursday, Oct. 28, two volcanos in far eastern Russia exploded that sent huge ash clouds about 37,000 feet into the air. Airlines were forced to divert flights. Eurasia's highest active volcanos, the Klyuchevskaya Sopka and the Shiveluch volcano, both exploded on Oct. 28. Tokyo, Japan did issue an advisory for planes to be on alert for ash clouds. Airlines avoid those clouds as the ash and dust can literally shut down engines in mid-flight.

Over the next few months, there may be some minor cooling in these localized areas due to the dust and ash. However, in order for significant cooling of the Earth's temperature, we would have to see an eruption that sends the dust and ash as high as 70,000 to 80,000 feet, not just 30,000 to 40,000 feet.

Predicting a major volcanic eruption has not quite become a reality, but much progress has been made. It seems that eruptions tend to come in bunches, as may be the case with the current eruptions. Many eruptions are often preceded by earthquakes, a swelling of the ground, the formation of cracks and the release of gases. There are also thermal infrared sensors in satellites to help detect the hot spots. Also, regions of warmer than normal sea-surface temperatures may also suggest a substantial increase in underwater volcanic activity that may eventually lead to another El Nino in the near future.

If we were to see several major eruptions within a short period of time, it's possible that the earth would be cooled by at least another 1 to 3 degrees as all the dust and ash in the upper atmosphere would partly shield the sun's rays and greatly disrupt worldwide weather patterns. Temperatures did cool rather dramatically during the infamous "Year without a Summer" in 1816 following the major eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815. That explosion put an incredible EIGHT TIMES more volcanic material into the upper atmosphere than the recent strong eruption in June of 1991 of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which, by the way, briefly dropped the Earth's temperature over a degree in 1992.

New England's historians refer to 1816 as "Eighteen-Hundred and Froze to Death". Snow fell every month in 1816 at the higher elevations in the interior Northeast while freezes blackened crops that summer in the valleys of northeastern New York State, interior New England and much of southeastern Canada. Many people actually died from hunger the following winter of 1816-17.

There has been growing concern about the huge "supervolcano" in Yellowstone National Park. A disastrous eruption there would throw the Earth into a nuclear winter almost immediately, in a matter of days. But, such a violent eruption of Yellowstone may not occur for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Only time will tell.


Thanks, at least in part, to the new cooler and wetter 'La Nina' event in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, the month of October, with a healthy 3.23 inches of badly-needed precipitation, was the first month since last June with above normal rainfall. The normal October precipitation since 1895 is 1.93 inches. In 2009, we gauged more than double the normal rainfall at 4.07 inches. Fall rains are great for the trees in the forests and in our yards.

The month of November is off to a wet start as well with .53 inches as of Thursday morning, Nov. 4. More rains, or perhaps rain mixed with snow at times, are likely to return to the Inland Empire, including North Idaho, by this first weekend of November through early this next week, as a cold 'trough' of low pressure pushes into the region from the Gulf of Alaska.

Afternoon temperatures will plunge into the upper 30s and lower 40s by Monday through Wednesday of this week. With overnight readings near the freezing mark, we could see some measurable wet snows in the lowlands above 2,200 feet with heavier accumulations in the higher elevations to the north and east of Coeur d'Alene.

I've been predicting for weeks now that our first measurable snows in the lowlands would arrive around Veterans' Day, Nov. 11, so I should be close to the forecast time frame for Camelot.

Longer-term, moderate to heavy amounts of the white stuff should fall during the 'full moon' cycle just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, especially above 3,500 feet in elevation. That includes all of the areas ski resorts, which should be great news for skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports enthusiasts alike.

Looking farther down the meteorological highway, I see at least 20 percent more snowfall, again thanks to La Nina, than normal locally in the 60-day period from late November through late January before the snows taper off in February and March of 2011. The chances of a brilliant WHITE CHRISTMAS are at least 70 percent, maybe even higher in areas to the north and east of Coeur d'Alene.

Let's hope that La Nina continues to hold its strength, at least through the holidays. Stay tuned.

SPECIAL ADDED SAD NOTE: Our "Idaho Pop," Harold Slorp, formerly of Hayden Lake, has died in Paso Robles, Calif., at the extremely advanced age of 106 years old.

Sharon and I offer our deepest condolences to his daughter, Claudia Hansen, with whom he had been living in Paso Robles since his beloved wife of 40 years-plus, Garda, died a couple of years ago.

Last year, we visited Harold in Paso Robles to celebrate is 105th birthday. I asked him what his most vivid memory was from a century ago. Harold, his mind still very sharp, said that it was seeing his first airplane 101 years ago at an Ohio county fair in 1909. He exclaimed, "I thought that it was some kind of 'SPACE SHIP.'"

Rest peacefully, my friend, we'll see you soon in heaven ... "the kids."

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. E-mail sfharris@roadrunner.com