Countless studies have shown that humans are responsible for global warming, a phenomenon referred to as anthropogenic warming. According to a new study by researchers at Plymouth University, natural events like volcanic eruptions can also contribute to that warming. In fact, the El Chichón volcano in Mexico, which erupted in 1982, was such a significant contributor that it helped anthropogenic warming perform the largest shift in global climate in 1,000 years.
According to the paper, the Earth is now under a different “climate regime” than it was beforehand, a shift which is centered on the year 1987. The effects have been far ranging, and we’re still seeing them today. These include “a 60% increase in winter river flow into the Baltic Sea,” and a “400% increase in the average duration of wildfires in the Western United States.” Considering how bad, and far-reaching, wildfires were this year; it’s easy to see why this shift isn’t a good thing.
The research also sheds light on the process of global warming itself. That process isn’t a purely gradual one, but features sudden increases. Anthropogenic warming is primarily caused by carbon emissions, produced by burning fossil fuels, which tends to be relatively stable, although the specific amounts vary from year to year and place to place. With the addition of things like volcanic eruptions, however, the damage caused by the gradual build up of carbon emissions can get a pretty big boost.
Volcanic eruptions are, of course, outside of our control, and obviously not our fault. But it’s important to remember that they are pretty rare, and even at the most volcanically active points in the Earth’s history, it took an incredibly long time, and a lot of eruptions, to affect significant change to the world. With humans laying the groundwork though, even one eruption is capable of triggering severe changes.