Hunga Tonga, Hot or Cold?

Tom Finnerty15 Jun, 2024 3 Min Read
Yes, we have underwater volcanoes, too.

One of our go-to expressions here at The Pipeline is, "Climate changes. Always has, always will." It's an important fact that helps bridge the climatological realities of the pre-historic world through the Medieval warming period, the Little Ice Age, right up until today. And, ironically, it's the foundational principle that sets us at odds with the ideologues who preach "man-made climate change," based as it is on the idea that the climate was essentially static for thousands of years until the day before yesterday.

The fact that climate changes, for almost innumerable reasons, is the background to this post over at the Climate Discussion Nexus, on the ongoing attempts to study the climatic effects of the Hunga-Tonga volcano eruption of 2022, which we've discussed in this space before. The long and the short of it is, a volcano erupted at the beginning of 2022 roughly forty miles from the Polynesian island nation of Tonga. It was the largest volcanic eruption in the previous 30 years, and caused the largest atmospheric disturbance ever captured by modern instruments.

1816: in Geneva, Lord Byron contemplates the Year Without a Summer.

The thing is, the volcano is underwater, which is why we didn't see an ejection of ash into the atmosphere of the type which can cause large-scale -- even global -- cooling. Think the famous "Year Without a Summer" of 1816, which followed the eruption of Mount Tambora the year before, or similar widespread disruptions after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.

Instead, Hunga-Tonga ejected a tremendous about of water vapor into the atmosphere. And water vapor, as is accepted by both Green and skeptical climatologists, is a much more significant factor in planetary warming than carbon dioxide. However, explains CDN, "Since H2O is a powerful greenhouse gas we might suppose that [the eruption] means warming for the world. But it’s not that simple, since water vapor that far up can cause surface cooling instead of warming. Climate is complicated, as we may have mentioned."

So the effects of the eruption were not immediately known, but the blog post details the latest attempt to understand them:

Now a team of Australian scientists has published a study (free version here) based on climate model simulations presenting an initial estimate of the potential global climate impacts of [Hunga-Tonga]. Their conclusion: it caused a lot of Northern Hemispheric warming and it will last a long time. Which if true explains the spike in temperature in 2023 much better than the models can, or the CO2-obsessed theory on which they are based.

The authors are upfront about the fact that there is a wide divergence of opinion about how much water vapor was actually injected into the stratosphere. They estimate that it amounted to a 10 percent increase about normal average levels. They further estimate that it "will take about 7 years for the H2O to dissipate and for levels to return to normal," and that in that time we will see noticeably elevated temperatures, especially in the winter, especially in North America, Europe, and Africa.

Now, cautions CDN, this is "just one theory in a complicated area and it depends on a whole lot of computer modeling of a sort we regard with skepticism." Consequently, it should be regarded with a grain of salt.

But it very much underscores the initial point, which is that the climate is an insanely complex system. And anyone telling you that if you, say, take your family on vacation, have a third child (or even a first!), or object to being forced to buy an EV, that you're responsible for "let[ting] the planet burn" (in the memorable words of Canada's Health Minister, Mark Holland), his assertions should be met with ridicule and scorn, because he has no idea what he's talking about.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.


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