Europe is gripped by a series of unprecedented events and has become the focus of the world. The Greece Crisis hasn’t left the scene as yet when Mother Nature decided to intervene as well. The eruption of Icelandic volcano has spewed tremendous amount of volcanic ash and gases in the atmosphere and has caused worldwide ch aos.
The busiest airports; London Heathrow and France’s Charles De Gaulle have become ghost airports. Flights to and from Europe were cancelled on a world-wide scale. Passengers are stranded in different parts of the world. Airlines and Tourism industry are incurring losses of billions on a daily basis! And, yet the volcano shows no sign of slowing down. In the midst of all this chaos, the Polish President along with his wife were laid to rest in a state funeral.
The attention although remains on the economic costs brought about this eruption, but, there is another question that should be thought about; what impacts will this eruption have on the climate? The question is important as the world organizations scramble to get a grip on the effects of climate change, Mother Nature, it seems, is set to take on a different course altogether.
Volcanic Eruption and its Impacts on Climate
Mother Nature is unpredictable and the last four days are a formidable example of its unpredictability. The Icelandic volcanic eruption has captured the world with its immense power and ability to disrupt the global processes for hours and days. Indeed, it has brought not a part but the whole world to a standstill.
Volcanic eruptions are well-known for their effects on both the ground and atmospheric level. The Icelandic volcanoes are specifically known for their effects on climate. An example is in 1783, when an ‘enormous eruption of the Laki fissure system (a chain of volcanoes in which the lava erupts through a crack in the ground instead from a single point)’ caused massive disruptions in the climate. It produced a cloud of ash that reached the stratosphere, caused economic costs in Iceland in terms of livestock and population and led to reduction of winter temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere overall.
Volcanic eruptions are critically watched over because they are known to emit gases like sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrogen chloride (HCl), hydrogen fluoride (HF) and major quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2). It is argued that out of all the gases, it is the sulfur dioxide which is worrisome for it is the key ingredient of acid rain and haze. ‘The sulfur compounds are gases that rise easily unto the stratosphere’ and once combined with water, they form a haze of sulfuric acid. This haze can remain for months or even years as the stratosphere is dry. The haze has the capacity to reflect a great deal of sunlight.
On the other hand, the release of carbon dioxide gas means the ‘heat radiation emitted by the ground’ will be trapped in the atmosphere, having an adverse effects on the temperatures. The eruptions also lead to haze further contributing to adverse effects on climate.
Then there is a danger of how the ozone layer will be affected by this eruption. ‘Satellite data after the 1991 eruptions of Mount Pinatubo and Mount Hudson showed a 15% – 20% ozone loss at high latitudes‘. Thus, the more reasons for monitoring this eruption.
The Economic Impacts
For now, the volcanic eruption has given the European economies a setback by halting their airline and tourism industry for a few days. However, the analysis cannot stop here simply because the eruption will leave behind its marks on the climate and in turn on the economies.
There will be an impact on temperatures that could have adverse effects. The temperatures could either increase or decrease in summer depending on the amount of carbon dioxide gas emitted by this eruption. Whether there is a formation of haze afterwards also remains to be seen. However, winters could be worse for there is a possibility that there could be a further drop in winter temperatures, especially in Europe. The temperature drop could then put a pressure on the energy sector and this could have multiplier effects throughout the economy. A colder than usual winter could have impact on food prices as well which can further ripple across the economies through various channels. The economies are already in the recovery mode from the financial crisis and at such juncture any adverse shock even in terms of climate could swing the pendulum of the economies to the extreme.
What’s Next for Europe?
For the next few months, Europe will remain under a critical global attention. Britain’s looming elections are crucial as already the public is not at ease with economic situation and the fate of politics hangs in balance depending on the policy agendas that satisfy the public. On the other hand, while a bail-out package is being worked for Greece, the situation has accelerated the rumors of Europe breaking up. Such a situation will reverberate shocks throughout the globe and will bring its own consequences. In addition to this, what marks will this eruption leaves behind is also in question. But more importantly the question whether there be more eruptions of such nature has become significant.
Another volcano in Iceland is already under surveillance and so far no volcanic activity has been recorded. On the far end, in Alaska, it is believed that Mount Novarupta which erupted last in 1912 ‘lies on the active convergent boundary and could erupt again’. The eruption of Mount Novarupta has immense capacity to change the global climate and temperatures. With climate change already causing havoc in some parts of the world, one can only hope that there are no further eruptions of such nature for it will not only threaten the climate, but also, the whole global system.
For now, Mother Nature is taking its own course and one can only hope that the course does not leave behind ugly marks.