Apocalypse

A guest post by Tallis

The very worst case scenarios are rarely considered for disasters and for usually a good reason. They are either so unlikely or so boring that there is no point in worrying or thinking about it. The worst case impact event is one that would completely destroy the Earth and make another asteroid belt or planet entirely. The worst case tornado would be one that would produce Jarrell level damage while moving at 70 plus mph through the downtown area of a large city (Not likely at all!). Flood basalts and gamma ray bursts are similar events. However volcanic winter through explosive eruption are not like that, since we don’t even know the climate effects of upper end VEI 7 eruptions let alone VEI 8s. We can’t just sit here and say “We don’t know so forget about it.” so I have done some brainstorming and I have conceptualized a potential worst case scenario for Explosive Volcanic winter.

First let’s address the best case scenario; lately some scientists have come forward saying that VEI 8 eruptions produce limited climate effects, producing a drop in temperatures of less then 1 C. It would seem that there is cold war when it comes to the effects of these eruptions between skeptics and supporters of apocalyptic volcanic winter. Personally I think a VEI 8 eruption would likely produce a temperature drop of 5-8 C. Pretty nasty but not crazy, the mere fact that an argument could be made for a drop of 10+ C or 1> C shows how little we know.

The central battle of this cold war is the Toba eruption, various arguments have been put forth on both sides but the physical evidence leans towards the skeptics. The two biggest arguments put forward by the skeptics is that as the mass of SO2 is released increases, the aerosols will become larger and will be flushed out quicker and higher concentrations of aerosols cannot be sustained because the aerosol microphysics will lead to higher removal rates. Supporters have argued with skeptics concerning how much these factors would limit volcanic winter but there is not a lot of arguments on other ways that the Toba eruption’s climate effects could be neutered.

Some have argued that the sulfur load from Samalas eruption is the point where the aerosols become too large and are flushed out quicker. For reference, this eruption released around 120-240 megatons of SO2, if this mass would be the limit of sustainable volcanic winter, then it would be safe to say that we wouldn’t really have to worry about larger eruptions. Thankfully we have a prehistoric event that disproves this: 7,600 years ago Mt Mazama produced an eruption similar in size to the Samalas eruption also with similar SO2 amounts for the northern hemisphere. An analysis of ice cores following this eruption has shown that the SO2 was flushed out over a period of 6 years! So I am sure that means the Samalas eruption didn’t exceed the perfect mass threshold. Whatever this ”Magic Mass” is, I don’t think any historic eruption has surpassed it, for all we know it could be a pretty small number or it could be the most massive numeral.

The first limit to explosive volcanic winter is time, the aerosols usually have a lifetime of 2-3 years at the most. The worst effects will usually be gone after the second year and there is no reason to assume the rules would change with larger eruptions. Finding concrete physical data concerning an event so brief will be extremely difficult, the longer term effects are likely mild compared to other cooling events so that may not be reliable either. The Toba eruption took place during the Ice Age and I believe the Ice Age neutered the eruption.

There are two fundamental ingredients for sulfuric aerosols, SO2 and water. If there isn’t enough of one then it doesn’t matter how much of the other you have, you are not going to see much. I think the SO2 released by the Toba eruption didn’t have a lot of water to work with because of the Ice Age. This may sound like stupid argument at a glance considering the most abundant gas released by volcanic eruptions is water vapor so surely this shouldn’t be an issue. Stratospheric volcanic water vapor injections have been studied and shockingly they found that while there was an increase, it only lasted a few days, not enough time to form all of the aerosols. Other studies of the stratospheric injection of other volcanic gases, have argued that not all of them can make it to the stratosphere. In fact only limited amounts of some volcanic gases take a lasting residence in the stratosphere. Effusive eruptions likely don’t have this issue due to the fact that the plume dynamics are completely different.

During an Ice Age, natural water vapor would not be enough to react with all of the SO2, I do believe that some of volcanic H2O could make a longer residence within the stratosphere but ultimately not enough. This could actually explain why a lot of large eruptions in the past 2 million years don’t seem to produce extreme climate effects. The evidence for the basic idea of limited water vapor injections are supported with real results. So I am pretty confident this is the likely cause for the neutered climate response of Toba.

With this idea, the dynamics of large amounts of sulfuric aerosols may be even more mysterious and hard to understand. We don’t know these dynamics and until something grants us the understanding and knowledge, neither the supporters or the skeptics can declare victory. The magnetism of an incredible disaster or the fear of it can cloud someone’s mind, after all no matter how unbiased one claims they are, they’ll always be inclined to one side. I am sure you can guess which side I am inclined for.

Can we even concretely discern the worst case scenario without this crucial knowledge? No. Can we get a picture? Yes. I believe there is the perfect level of SO2 mass that balances aerosol lifetime and intensity, I don’t know what the exact value of the “Perfect mass” would be but I am sure it exists. The eruption’s size would be an important factor for the worst case scenario but it is not the most important part. What is the other part? Younger Dryas shows the answer.

The cause for Younger Dryas has been debated ranging from an impact event to a supernova but the most accepted cause is a melt water pulse shutting down the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. The AMOC as we’ll call it in this article, is responsible for the transport of warm water into the northern Atlantic. This is what keeps the climate of Western Europe and Eastern America warm. It is part of the Global thermohaline circulation.

There is a hypothesis that the eruption of Laacher See coinciding with the melt water pulse that triggered this event. (Note:The Laacher see volcano is in Germany and is part of a still kicking system and if you want some more information read this article https://www.volcanocafe.org/unrest-at-laacher-see-is-it-us-or-the-volcano/) This hypothesis hasn’t been confirmed, but there has been no significant evidence against it. Younger Dryas did take place very shortly after this eruption and sea ice-ocean circulation positive feedback could sustain the cooling from the eruption. The dynamics of such a process are not settled and this is what keeps this idea getting more support.

In order for this hypothesis to work, we need to find out how the melt water pulse would intensify and sustain the cooling from the aerosols. As previously mentioned the pulse would slow down the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and we already have current data on what that would look like because the AMOC is weakening quickly now. Whether one believes in apocalyptic anthropogenic climate change (I am pretty skeptical myself) doesn’t change the fact that the AMOC is weakening pretty quickly now and in fact, this is the weakest it’s been in 1600 years. (The data goes to 450; it was stable from that time to the 19h century.) I believe this could be what has been driving the recent active Atlantic hurricane seasons and some of the recent powerful European windstorms as well. We can see clearly the results of this change in the ocean, as a growing blob of cold water exists in the northern Atlantic. This slowdown would lead to a decrease in salinity as well as temperature.

The first thing that would enhance the volcanic winter is the fact that freshwater freezes quicker than saltwater, with a sudden influx of cold freshwater with the reduced transport of warm saltwater. A significant amount of sea ice could develop, how much though, would depend on the scale of the cooling. Due to the nature of volcanic winter, the most intense cooling would take place during the summer, and as such for a year or 2, sea ice melt would be weak and could actually build. Once the aerosols are removed, this sea ice would melt and would disrupt the circulation even more so.

If enough sea ice develops, then the ice could increase the Earth albedo, and give the volcanic winter a decent boost as well. With the weakening of the AMOC, there would be an increase in baroclinicity, which would lead to more powerful extra-tropical cyclones. Which means there would be more significant snowfall which could also give the winter a boost.

It has been said that large volcanic eruptions are perfectly capable of decreasing heat flow to the arctic all on their own after all the AMOC isn’t the only circulation on this Planet! The AMOC is connected to other major currents across the world, including the Kurishio and East Australian currents, they all make up the global thermohaline circulation so if you mess with one then you mess with it all. So the volcanic eruption and meltwater pulse would mess with the other circulations as well, likely to a lesser extent.

Just simply with the nature of large scale volcanic winter already messing this circulation, we have some issues, with a meltwater pulse, that makes it even more nasty! However, even though the current disruption to the AMOC is related to the warming of the Planet, global cooling is perfectly capable of disrupting the circulation as well. In fact I just explained how that would work earlier! So with the sudden disruptions to climate through the aerosols the weakening of the circulation would actually begin to intensify and get worse.

This wouldn’t be a quick event, with the cooling lasting for decades and the circulation on life support, smaller volcanic eruptions would make things worse and could sustain the trend for a longer time. This wouldn’t last forever though as other variables to the climate exist and if we are to assume that the water vapor in the stratosphere has a big role on the scale of volcanic winter then it would be safe to assume that after a while there wouldn’t be enough to sustain any more large scale volcanic winter but the question is…was the Laacher see eruption big enough to affect the circulation like this? At a glance, it may seem a little outlandish. The eruption was only the size of the 1912 Novarupta eruption and the SO2 load was similar to the Tambora eruption, this eruption produced around 120 megatons of SO2.

But let’s investigate this proposition a little further, was there any eruption like this historic times? Any eruption with real and well studied effects? Yes! In fact, it has around the same SO2 load and took place firmly in the same hemisphere. Her name was Laki.

Starting June 8 1783, this massive fissure would release 14.7 cubic km3 of liquid magma with 0.8 km DRE of tephra as well over 9 months but mostly within the first 6 months covering the Europe haze laced with volcanic gases that killed tens of thousands and produced one of the most severe volcanic winter known in history. While it is unknown, it is possible that the volcanic winter killed or helped kill millions worldwide. This eruption also produced around 120-150 megatons of SO2, however the plume dynamics of this eruption ensured that not all of that gas would make a lasting residence in the stratosphere. Looking at this table we can see the total drop in solar irradiance from this eruption is around 15.5 W m-2. It is important to note that all of that only goes for the northern hemisphere and once you factor that in Laki can stand with top 3 eruptions on this list.

The eruption of Laki caused a drop of temperatures of around 1.3 C for the northern hemisphere, a very bad volcanic winter to say the least. I think this gives us a picture on the potential climate impacts of the Laacher see eruption. I am sure the climate impacts would be far more significant then the Laki eruption due to the fact that most of the SO2 would make it to the stratosphere and be converted to longer lasting aerosols. An abrupt drop of 1.3+ C should be enough to produce some significant sea ice and snow. Whether the Laacher see eruption caused Younger Dryas or not, an eruption could enhance the effects of a meltwater pulse and slowdown of thermohaline circulation and vice versa. (Once the eruption is large enough!)

The worst case scenario, would be a large eruption with this hypothetical perfect SO2 mass taking place with a meltwater pulse with a neutral or negative ENSO. I am not qualified to give any specific numbers but I am sure this would drop global temperatures by at least 9 C Once again, I can’t actually prove my hypothesis but someone else can! If there are any climatologists and volcanologists reading this, please give the idea a whirl!

It wouldn’t be one of my articles if I don’t somehow try to connect this to the present! So are the conditions currently suitable for a Younger Dryas scenario? That’s a resounding NO but I do believe current conditions are suitable for good volcanic winter. We already have the issues with the AMOC but are there any other supportive variables? Currently in the southern hemisphere we have significant icebergs breaking off and the West Antarctic ice shelf is unstable, if we can get more ice to break off we might be able to see some disruptions to the circulations in the south.

Another issue is that the Beaufort Gyre, an Arctic sea current, has been accumulating fresh water for years and it will ultimately release this water back into the Atlantic. This isn’t anything compared to the Freshwater released during Younger Dryas but it is still significant. This wouldn’t be enough to take the volcanic winter to Super Saiyan but it could be enough for Kaio-ken. We have seen the stratospheric water vapor increase over the past years as well. This has been a problem for the Ozone layer, as water vapor helps in the destruction of the ozone. Now I couldn’t find the exact number but we can find out with the information we have. Currently there are 4-10 ppmv of water vapor in the stratosphere, now the stratosphere contains around 20% of the atmosphere’s mass and the total amount of particles in the atmosphere is 1.09×1044 so let’s divide that by 20%, Um I mean 5! Which leads to 2.18×1043 let’s kill 6 zeros and multiply value by 4 which gives us 8.72×1037 . The molar mass for H2O is 18.01528(33) g/mol so let’s divide again by 6.02214076×1023 which gives us 61,772,053,298,867 lets multiply that 18 and divide that by a million, which gives us 1,111,896,959 tonnes. On the lower end, on the other end we get 2,779,742,398 tonnes.

With this we find that even if the Toba eruption took place now, there still wouldn’t be enough water vapor for all of that SO2 and this is after the current climate trends supporting excess H20 within the stratosphere! Still it’s enough to support a large eruption to say the least, so if we get a nice billion ton SO2 emitting eruption, we have enough water to turn all that to aerosols. Not accounting for potential water vapor from the eruption. Ultimately, the aerosol microphysics will decide the strength of the volcanic winter in the absence of external variables and as smart as I am, that is something I couldn’t possibly figure. The dynamics of the aerosols from larger eruptions need some more research and with an open mind, this can’t be approached with the wrong deposition. I do believe the current conditions are suitable for a large-scale volcanic winter but before I conclude, I must address the elephant in the room.

The Pinatubo eruption took place recently and produced a volcanic winter, however it didn’t seem enhanced in any way despite taking place during a pretty favorable period according to my hypothesis. I know it was a pretty small eruption in terms of SO2 load compared to historic events and it doesn’t even show up in the top 25 eruptions in the past 2500 years. So that could be the answer but I believe since there was an El Nino that took place shortly before and continued a few years after the eruption, the cooling wasn’t as intense. Depending on how much El ninos reduce the cooling from volcanoes, the mere fact that there was a substantial cooling event could mean the Pinatubo eruption was enhanced.

Whatever, the reality is, I am sure we can figure it out. This cold war between skeptics and supporters must come to an end and we must find the facts concerning volcanic winter. I could be dead wrong in everything I have put forth here, but on the journey to truth we have to expect some falls. We might be able to test this idea out in real life so let’s keep an eye on the actual volcanoes too!

The Die has been cast, the trumpet has been blown

The warm light is dead, Blue skies gone,

Night is now eternal and it will never falter

The Sun has fallen and the heavens quiver,

Stars have fled, and the moon weeps

God’s wrath has come and hell awaits

The babes cry no more, they are hushed

The children look to their parents, confused

The men and women cannot answer they cannot speak.

Every beast knows what is coming, The truth is bleak

Death smiles. It will feast this hour

The angels frown. They will protect no more

Gone is the sustaining rain, the skies bring only fear and pain

Gone is the nurturing earth, the ground brings only famine

There is no love, there is no happiness, there will be no reprieve

There will only be hate, despair and tears on this eternal eve

484 thoughts on “Apocalypse

  1. So, we truly have a Reykjanes Fires now, a.k.a the VC article. Well I’ll be kicked to death by little red spiders.

  2. It’s longer (perhaps waaaay longer looking at the latest camera pan) to the south than my red line map. Still expanding North too, looking at the steam.

    • No I think your map is correct. I saw the RUV camera panning to the new fissure, and it also lines up with that small graben or ditch that runs from your red line to the ridge between gerdingadalur and meradalur.

  3. Both the old cone and the new fissure are erupting nicely. I think they will remain for some hours at the same time

    The new fissure is 0.5km NE, along the dyke. Yesterday a swarm happened also further NE towards Keillir. Watch this space.

    We need a new post 🙂

    • Thanks for being sensible and checking the other cam.I cannot take my eyes off thie RUV, I am taking photos. Still shaking!

    • I actually wrote a post, already submitted to the waiting line. Lets just say it could be the perfect thing for the new situation, definitely not a subtle hint to whoever is in charge of articles not at all lol

      This is the beginning of Chadagigar 🙂

  4. Given that the first eruption is still going on and now there is an additional eruption 500m from it with much more energy I guess this could get even bigger over time. Clearly the output has more than tripled, right?

  5. If you think about it the new fissure is like a Laki-scale eruption to an ant 🙂

    That is assuming there are ants in Iceland, which might be a silly question…

  6. The impression I get is that the first eruption was just a side show like EJ 2010.
    Perhaps the new fissure is the main fissure.
    OK I am wishful thinking too.

    • On that photo it looks like it is on the same fissure line as the first eruption.
      This means it is much more powerful than yesterday. Yet no EQ’s to announce it.

  7. First helicopter spotted. Time to start refreshing icelandic media for the latest images.

  8. Someone get the IV up and running. We need coffee, stat! And popcorn! What a show!

  9. The cam just did a turn to the right and there was smoke rising too, should be a crack more than 1km long then

  10. A lava fields or pond seems to have formed on the right, just near the edge of the RUV stream.

    • Yes, I saw the name and was going to comment about ‘Apocalypse in 9/8’, but we seem to have been overtaken by events! 😀 😀 😀

  11. That is a surprise. My guess is that this caused by cooling in the dike, pushing out the remaining liquid. But that is a guess. Too early to say whether it is a leak of the twin peaks.

    • What do you think of the steam in the valley to the right? I’m seeing two possible fissures, one in the foreground on the break of slope, and the mass of steam across the flat valley bottom near the rising valley wall.

  12. Those aerial photos show why there isnt a lava flow spreading out, its been channeled into a gully where it cascades down the side of the mountain. That is also why you cant see any fountains along the right side of the fissure because it is drowned under the flow. Its hard to tell but looks to be flowing fast.

    • Yes. And look at the horizon. The ruv camera is on a tilt, so the gully is on a guite steep gradient.

      • Looks almost like the volcano has appeared on the set of the old Batman series 🙂

  13. The fires seem to be about 50 metres tall on average, rule of thumb and rape measure compared to the people by the gully in the foreground.

    Spatter already building up a ridge. So much steam back towards the valley. Can it

    Can I see more than one fissure there?

    Also4 S&R heading back south at 13:02, west side of the same gully, descending out of sight.
    Intermittent fountaining on slope going down to the Valley of the Mares.

    Look at all that steam!

    Anyone want to place bets on the new cone site?

  14. Grockle alert. Ye gods. May Odin strike them down, and may they be exiled from Valhalla for all eternity.

  15. I guess the people in front of the webcam did not get the message that the sites has been closed and is being evacuated.

  16. There seems to be a lot more lava in front of the cones on the K100 webcam today. Is that lava expansion or has there been some uplift in the ground?

  17. Regarding the location. I used the nice satellite photos from map.is plus the above image from the helicopter to locate the spot. To the left: rotated so that it matches the viewpoint of the photo posted by ulwur. Right: the ususal map orientation with north upwards. Note the yellow marked rocky formation which is easily recognized on the airial photo.

    Red: Approximate position of the new fissure. Black: Possible way of the lava (roughly guessed).

    • Don’t want to flood the place with drawings, but this would be the spot I figured. With a nice downward track to Meradalir.

      • Thanks for the help getting us oriented to the new action! Much appreciated 🙂

  18. There were people walking around in the area and they have clearly been in danger. The helicopters we see are sweeping the area just in case anyone is in trouble.

    • The update with an image on that site at 12.40 is a very good shot of the northern tip of the fissure. If you zoom in on it, there may be indication of graben like lines extending on northwards, and at that point it is all down hill.

    • Ah, that’s the one I just tried and failed to link too.

      That flow has extended that far in about 30 mins!

    • This lava is really really really hot… almost yellow in daylight so over 1200 C
      Very very fluid… but its not been sitting underground in shallow chambers and cooling

  19. https://www.visir.is/g/20212093454d/horfdu-a-sprunguna-opnast-og-glaeringarnar-koma-upp

    Watch the crack open and the slides appear

    This was certainly unexpected but fun, says Kristján Kristjánsson, who watched the new crack in Geldingadalur open at noon today. He had just arrived at the eruption site with his ten-year-old grandson when the crack opened.

    “No, no. I was not surprised by anything, “says Kristján when asked. “There was a bit of a thud before that, but nothing serious,” he says when asked on the eve.

    He says that this was their first trip to the eruption sites, but they were on their way down the mountain when the news agency got word of them.

    “There was such a thud and then we saw the slides come up. And then it all started, “says Kristján. “We started by trying to take a picture of this but then avoided it. He also just enjoyed it. It was an experience, but of course a greater experience for the younger ones. ”

    Kristján says that no one else was so close to the crack, there were only two of them there. Rescue workers then came to meet them and the area was evacuated.

    Kristján captured this short video of the crack, moments after it opened.

  20. Just a sketch. Lava river as observed on the arial photo. Just a rough approximation. If you go to map.is you will easily find that place (look out for the distinctive green patches, which are brown on the photo).

    Exciting…

  21. So what’s the betting then guys?

    A) Choking of the conduit by gradual cooling, increasing pressure and forcing the magma to break through elsewhere?

    B) Increased magma supply due to increased decompression melt? This would also require the underground flow to be diverted to the new vents to explain the linked decline of the previous eruption site.

    C) Just Iceland being Iceland?

    • After writing this, I’m not actually so sure the activity has declined at the old vents…Reduced fountaining, perhaps, but the lava rivers are still flowing strong.

      • I’m of the thought that your comment is correct – my untrained eye doesn’t see any reduction in flows, which would have happened if the new fissures was stealing magma from the ‘twins’.

        Now, of course, is my question. Based on what the current flow is, what would the WAG for refilling of the lakes to the pre-draining levels (or close to it)?

        This *is* all very exciting – there goes the day (or two, or three….) 🙂

        • Your guess is as good as mine!

          The only certainty is that I’ll be keeping my eyes glued to the various cameras…wonderful that we’re able to watch the events unfold as they happen from all around the world!

          • Going to have to get more ‘smart TVs’ to keep everything in view…gonna look like Houston Control pretty soon LOL.

            And copy your comment about all the cameras available – this is an amazing time to be living through 🙂

      • the yellow tinge to the orange lava is back on the two vents, so I would guess they are still being fed, definite change for awhile there.

  22. https://www.visir.is/g/20212093433d/ny-sprunga-ad-opnast-a-reykja-nes-skaga

    The lava flows down into Merardalur
    The lava from the fissure now flows down into Merardalur. This is confirmed by Kristín Jónsdóttir, group leader of the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s nature monitoring, in a conversation with the news agency.

    She says that it was expected that new cracks could open northeast of the volcanoes and that they had been mapped.

    “It’s a bit surprising that they’re coming out right now, at this point. We do not see any precedent for that, so there is a lot of uncertainty in all of this. ”

    She says it is not entirely clear whether the activity of the two original craters has decreased. It is difficult to determine from a visual point of view, and therefore measurements will be made.

    Below you can see a photo from Merardalir that was taken recently.

  23. Ah.. Get to our summer garden and of course this happands.. last look i saw it get much less action in the wents so i say to a friend i think something open up somewhere. under ground or a fissure..

  24. Visit.is has a reporter live and direct from the right side. Lovely images of the lava river.

  25. They talk about the off road that the rescue and journalists have used to access the area might get cut of by tha lava

      • is this a third fissure, or just the end of the stream? (the scene where the Superjeep camer around the corner while the camera was zoomed in on the flow was awesome)

      • Already starting to fill up Merardalir. Good production rate. Is the pond down there filled with water now?

        • The flow front in the valley floor is at a guesstimate about 500m from the fissure and the flow itself is probably about 1km long already once you take in to account the fact it curves back on itself.

          And that pond is the natural destination, I wonder how quickly it will reach it.

          • It fill have to fill the plane, that might take a while. Also, the pond could be parched. Does anybody now if there is water in it?

            I was stunned by the slope of the lava slide down into the valley. Will be spectacular in the night …

  26. I’m sad for the two brothers. We had great fun with them. Epic moments 24h/day.

    • a bit random – yes, the lava seems also a bit random – the excitement is quite high, as the situation is rapidly evolving

      • Can’t understand what they’re saying unfortunately, but looks like they’re finding plenty of Pele’s hair by the new site oooh

      • I’d say the situation is rather fluid, but I’d probably be banned from the comments section….

  27. The new fissure seems to be Increasing the level of fountaining, if the magma is very hot is it rapidly expanding the size of the outlet via melting?

    • another image: [img]https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EyOGF6zWUAA9BQv?format=jpg&name=medium[/img]

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