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What the Saint Vincent volcano’s eruption means for the atmosphere

After blasting to life after decades, the La Soufriere volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent has continued to vent ash into the air, along with regular volcanic rumblings.

So far no deaths have been reported, but the volcano is expected to cause significant hardship, with thousands expected to be displaced for several weeks amid severe impact to crops and livestock.

The volcano was so powerful that the shockwave was actually visible from space, and ash from the eruption soon reached Barbados, some 200 km to the east.




Aside from the impact on people, there may be a climate effect as well.

It’s all to do with sulfur dioxide, one output from the volcano (in fact, the volcano’s name, ‘La Soufriere,’ is a reference to sulfur).

When sulphur dioxide is released into the atmosphere it quickly forms potentially hazardous sulfate aerosols.



But when these aerosols are injected into the upper atmosphere (stratosphere), they can cool the climate for years by reflecting incident sunlight back to space, cooling the Earth’s lower atmosphere or troposphere.

Depending on how long the eruption goes on, and how much sulfur dioxide is emitted, and whether the ash cloud reaches the stratosphere, it may actually induce a global cooling effect for a period.

But volcanic eruptions also emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, has the potential to promote global warming.

READ: Rumbling noises emanate from St Vincent volcano putting the country out of power

READ: Ash rain, sulphur smell engulfs Saint Vincent after La Soufriere volcano eruption

READ: ‘Explosions, ash fall from La Soufrière to continue over next few days,’ experts warn