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WeatherTalk: Tonga eruption not likely to cool the climate

Strong eruptions in the tropics have been known to cause cooling due to large amounts of sulphur dioxide being placed into the upper atmosphere.

Cartoon of John Wheeler with a speech bubble depicting weather events
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The recent volcanic eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, about 40 miles from the island of Tonga in the South Pacific, created an atmospheric shock wave measured around the globe. The boom was heard across the Pacific Ocean, and tsunami waves caused flooding from New Zealand to California.

Extremely strong eruptions in the tropics have been known to have a dramatic cooling effect on climate due to large amounts of sulphur dioxide being placed into the upper atmosphere in the region which receives the most solar radiation. In 1991, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in The Philippines produced a measurable cool-down for about a year. Eruptions on Krakatoa in 1883 and Tambura in 1815 caused significant cooling lasting several years. However, the Tonga eruption has so far not sent enough sulphur dioxide skyward to have a climatic effect.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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