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Global Warming May Increase Volcanic Activity, Study Says
Published: December 22, 2017
Increased volcanic activity is likely to occur as the planet continues to warm from human-induced climate change, a recent study revealed.
According to the study published last month in the journal Geology, pressure exerted on the Earth's surface from glaciers, known by geologists as "surface loading," will decrease as global warming melts the massive ice sheets. This, in turn, will likely impact magma flow beneath the surface, the scientists said.
Lead author Graeme Swindles told Scientific American in an email that when glaciers expand, the weight of the ice puts immense pressure on Earth’s surface.
"It can affect magma flow and the voids and gaps in the Earth where magma flows to the surface, as well as how much magma the crust can actually hold," said Swindles.
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The researchers studied Icelandic eruptions from 4,500 to 5,500 years ago – an era that had a cooler climate but not a full-blown ice age. They looked at the record of ash that fell on peat bogs and lakes in Europe to draw their conclusions.
The scientists found that eruptions were significantly fewer as the climate cooled and the ice cover increased. In addition, eruptions that did occur seemed to be of a lesser magnitude.
The team found the exact opposite to be true when the planet warmed and glaciers melted.
"After glaciers are removed the surface pressure decreases, and the magmas more easily propagate to the surface and thus erupt," said Swindles.
He noted that a number of questions remain about how much global warming will affect volcanic activity in the coming decades, but was confident in the study's findings.
"I think we can predict we’re probably going to see a lot more volcanic activity in areas of the world where glaciers and volcanoes interact," he said.
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