Long term climate impacts possible from La Soufriere volcano

Eruption continues to devastate island of St. Vincent

Una columna de cenizas se alza del volcn La Soufriere, en el este de la isla caribea de San Vicente, en esta imagen tomada desde Chateaubelair el viernes, 9 de abril del 2021. (AP Foto/Kepa Diez Ara)
Una columna de cenizas se alza del volcn La Soufriere, en el este de la isla caribea de San Vicente, en esta imagen tomada desde Chateaubelair el viernes, 9 de abril del 2021. (AP Foto/Kepa Diez Ara) (Copyright 2021. The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

La Soufriere volcano continues to destroy everything in its path on the island of St. Vincent.

On Monday, the largest eruption recorded since the activity began on the island spewed an enormous amount of ash and hot gas into the air. Residents are still trying to remove the ash from the roofs of their homes while officials drill for freshwater, one of the items the people desperately need.

People clean volcanic ash from the red roof of a home after La Soufriere volcano erupted, in Wallilabou, on the western side of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Monday, April 12, 2021. La Soufriere volcano fired an enormous amount of ash and hot gas early Monday in the biggest explosive eruption yet since volcanic activity began on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent late last week. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

This eruption is one many volcanologists and climatologists are also watching closely. Volcanoes spew ash and gases like sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that can have long-term impacts on climate.

“Makes you wonder how big is that eruption is and what the impacts are going to be,” Chief Meteorologist Tom Sorrells said.

Sorrells recalls such an event early in his career when he worked for WBNS in Columbus, Ohio.

1991: Mount Pinatubo erupts in the Philippines. It would become the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th Century, after the 1912 eruption of Novarupta in the Alaska Peninsula, and kill more than 800 people. (USGS / Cascade Volcano Observatory via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines Sorrells said, “I didn’t have any idea that it would impact my local weather in Ohio. I was 27 and didn’t really think about it other than watching the coverage of the eruption.”

But then that all changed.

“The following summer was the summer without a summer for Columbus, Ohio. There was a huge quatercentenary celebration called AmeriFlora that was heavily invested into, but the weather did not cooperate,” Sorrells recalls.

“It was ugly, cold, overcast, and I believe that summer we only had hit 90 degrees once that entire season,” says Sorrells.

Volcanic ash or dust was blasted into the stratosphere along with 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide where it circled the globe.

Volcanic gases react with the atmosphere in various ways; the conversion of sulfur dioxide (SO2) to sulfuric acid (H2SO4has the most significant impact on climate. (U.S. Geological Survey)

The small particles in such large quantities create a haze that reflects solar radiation coming into the Earth resulting in a cooling of the Earth’s surface that can last for up to three years as it’s moved around by winds.

La Soufriere is one of 19 live volcanoes in the eastern Caribbean. Two are underwater while the other 17 are spread along eleven islands. La Soufriere is one of the most active and has had ongoing activity since 1995. The last eruption in 1997 claimed 19 lives and left two-thirds of the island uninhabitable.


About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.