Saturday, May 1, 2010

What Happened To The Volcano?

Well, the oil spill, or should I say oil leak, in the Gulf has certainly knocked the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, off the front pages. Before we leave it, however, I would like to use it to point out more extreme mis-information out there about volcanoes and global climate change.

I spent last weekend visiting relatives in the mid-West. We were out driving around and the topic of the Iceland volcano came up. One relative blurted out,

"You know, that volcano has spewed out more carbon dioxide than is produced by all the cars in the US in 10 years. So much for our impact on global warming. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Now, I knew he was full of crap, but (1) did not have my facts with me, and (2) did not want to really get into a climate change discussion at that time. Where did he get that "information"? He listens to "shock-jock" radio, so it probably came from there. Such thoughts may have originated from Ian Plimer who has written that volcanoes produce more CO2 than the world's cars and industries combined.

Let's look at some numbers.

The volcano is emitting about 150,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per day. That's 0.15 million metric tons per day.

When flights were cancelled in Europe, there was actually a net DECREASE in the carbon dioxide emissions. Airline carbon dioxide is more than twice the volcano carbon dioxide.

The effects of Eyjafjallajokull are quite small compared to other volcanoes. Mt. Pinatubo (much bigger eruption) in the Philippines emitted 42 million tons of carbon dioxide in 1991. The Iceland volcano will have to erupt for 280 days to equal that amount. That may happen. 42 million is a large number by itself. How does it compare to those cars?

Cars in the US emit about 1,600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in one year. Hey, 1,600 million is much larger than 42 million. Way bigger. In ten years US cars emit 16,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Wow! 16,000 million is way way bigger than 42 million. What do you know?

And what about all the other human activity? Well, in 2006 we contributed 29,195 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. That's a really big big number, makes Eyjafjallajokull seem somewhat insignificant.


  1. Soooo, even if what your relative said were true, and it isn't even remotely so, how would that justify our adding to the carbon dioxide content?

  2. His argument was that whatever amount of carbon dioxide we add, it is insignificant to what nature does. We are powerless to change it.

  3. Scary picture of spewn ash, look somesort like a monster