“The Siberian Trap eruptions were a causal factor in Earth’s largest mass extinction event (at the end of the Permian period), when 96% of Earth’s marine species and 70% of terrestrial life ceased to exist.”

Climate Explained

The above quote is from an October 23, 2019 Climate Explained collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer questions about climate change. In this case, the question asked was:

“Everyone is going on about reducing our carbon footprint, zero emissions, planting sustainable crops for biodiesel etc. Is it true what the internet posts say that a volcano eruption for a few weeks will make all our efforts null and void?”

The Climate Explained Answer goes back to first principles, when Earth got its atmosphere, 4.56 billion years ago. Since then volcanic eruptions have been the main cause of changing climate within our atmosphere, until  very recently. Over the years, there have been  relatively trivial inconveniences like comets and asteroid collisions, but the biggest volcanic impact came from the Siberian Trap eruptions.

The Siberian Trap Eruptions

The Climate Explained Answer notes:

“What contribution have volcanic eruptions made to this variation in climate? As an example of a major influence, some scientists link mass extinctions to major volcanic eruption events.

The most famous such association is that of the eruption of volcanoes that produced the Siberian Traps. This is a large region of thick volcanic rock sequences, some 2.5 to 4 million square kilometres, in an area in Russia’s eastern provinces. Rapid and voluminous volcanic eruptions around 252 million years ago released sufficient quantities of sulphate aerosols and carbon dioxide to trigger short-duration volcanic winters, and long-duration climate warming, over a period of 10s of thousands of years.”

Human vs Volcanic Contribution

The Climate Explained Answer then compares  the recent  human vs volcanic contribution to climate change:

“Perhaps the strongest evidence for answering whether our (human) emissions or volcanoes have a stronger influence on climate lies in the scale of greenhouse gas production. Since 2015, global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions have been around 35 to 37 billion tonnes per year. Annual volcanic CO2 emissions are around 200 million tonnes”

 For further information and links, see

Climate explained: how volcanoes influence climate and how their emissions compare to what we produce  by Michael Petterson, Professor of Geology, Auckland University of Technology.

Vale Penny Whetton

Last month we lost Dr Penny Whetton – one of the world’s most respected climate scientists and a brilliant mentor to the next generation of researchers. Penny will also be remembered as a passionate environmentalist, artist, photographer and champion of the transgender community.”

This quote is from an October 18, 2019 tribute in The  Conversation by John M Clarke, Team Leader, Regional Projections, CSIRO, who notes:

“Penny led the development of national climate change projections for Australia in 1992, 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2015. The 2015 projections remain the most comprehensive ever developed for Australia. They are widely used by the private sector, governments and NGOs and were one of Penny’s proudest achievements….”

“Penny’s work was recognised many times, including with a Eureka Prize in 2003 and internationally as part of the IPCC team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.”

 For further details, see Penny Whetton: A pioneering climate scientist skilled in the art of life

Tags:  Volcanic eruptions supervolcano New Zealand stories Greenhouse gas emissions Climate Explained  Transgender CSIRO Climate science Obituary Bureau of Meteorology  CSIRO Inventions


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