Do volcanoes affect weather?

Yes, volcanoes can affect weather and the Earth's climate. Following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, cooler than normal temperatures were recorded worldwide and brilliant sunsets and sunrises were attributed to this eruption that sent fine ash and gases high into the stratosphere, forming a large volcanic cloud that drifted around the world. The sulfur dioxide (SO2) in this cloud -- about 22 million tons -- combined with water to form droplets of sulfuric acid, blocking some of the sunlight from reaching the Earth and thereby cooling temperatures in some regions by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius. An eruption the size of Mount Pinatubo could affect the weather for several years. 

A similar phenomenon occurred in 1815 with the cataclysmic eruption of Tambora Volcano in Indonesia, the most powerful eruption in recorded history.Tambora's volcanic cloud lowered global temperatures by as much as 3 degrees Celsius. Even a year after the eruption, most of the northern hemisphere experienced sharply cooler temperatures during the summer months. In parts of Europe and in North America, 1816 was known as "the year without a summer."

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Could a large Yellowstone eruption significantly change weather patterns?

If another catastrophic caldera-forming Yellowstone eruption were to occur, it would probably alter global weather patterns and have enormous impacts on human activity (especially agricultural production) for many years. At this time, however, scientists do not have the ability to predict specific consequences or durations of possible global...

How much sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas does Kīlauea emit?

Kīlauea typically emits between 500 and 14,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) per day during periods of sustained eruption. During the 2018 eruption at Kīlauea’s Lower East Rift Zone, SO2 emissions were over 30,000 metric tons per day, in keeping with the increased vigor of that eruption. Methods for calculating emission rates for SO2 can...

Is there earthquake weather?

In the 4th Century B.C., Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were caused by winds trapped in subterranean caves. Small tremors were thought to have been caused by air pushing on the cavern roofs, and large ones by the air breaking the surface. This theory lead to a belief in earthquake weather, that because a large amount of air was trapped...

Why is it important to monitor volcanoes?

The United States and its territories contain 169 geologically active volcanoes, of which 54 volcanoes are a high threat or very high threat to public safety. Many of these volcanoes have erupted in the recent past and will erupt again in the foreseeable future. As populations increase, areas near volcanoes are being developed and aviation routes...

How are volcanic gases measured?

Instruments to measure sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide can be mounted in aircraft to determine the quantity of gas being emitted on a daily basis. Such instruments can also be used in a ground-based mode. An instrument that detects carbon dioxide can be installed on a volcano and configured to send data continuously via radio to an observatory...

What was the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century?

The World's largest eruption of the 20th century occurred in 1912 at Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula. An estimated 15 cubic kilometers of magma was explosively erupted during 60 hours beginning on June 6th. This volume is equivalent to 230 years of eruption at Kilauea (Hawaii) or about 30 times the volume erupted by Mount St. Helens (Washington...

Where is the largest active volcano in the world?

Rising gradually to more than 4 km above sea level, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on our planet. Its submarine flanks descend to the sea floor an additional 5 km (3 mi), and the sea floor in turn is depressed by Mauna Loa's great mass another 8 km (5 mi). This makes the volcano's summit about 17 km (10.5 mi) above its base!

What was the most destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States?

The May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens (Washington) was the most destructive in the history of the United States. Novarupta (Katmai) Volcano in Alaska erupted considerably more material in 1912, but owing to the isolation and sparse population of the region, there were no human deaths and little property damage. In contrast, the eruption of...

What are some benefits of volcanic eruptions?

Over geologic time, volcanic eruptions and related processes have directly and indirectly benefited mankind. Volcanic materials ultimately break down and weather to form some of the most fertile soils on Earth, cultivation of which has produced abundant food and fostered civilizations. The internal heat associated with young volcanic systems has...
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Plume lightning during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland in 2010
April 17, 2017

Ash and Lightning Above the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in 2010

Plume lightning during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland in 2010.

Attribution: Volcano Hazards
Image shows gray ash covering cars and a house
July 18, 2016

Ash Coating from Rabaul Volcanic Eruption

Ash buries cars and buildings after the 1984 eruption of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Credit: USGS

Satellite image of eruption cloud from Pavlof Volcano in November 2014
November 15, 2014

Satellite image of eruption cloud from Pavlof Volcano in November 2014

Satellite image from the USGS/NASA Landsat-8 satellite showing the eruption cloud at Pavlof Volcano on November 15 at 12:46 pm AKST (21:46 UTC). This is just a portion of the eruption cloud, which extended for more than 250 miles to the northwest at the time this image was collected. In this image, the distance from the erupting vent to the upper left corner of the image

Attribution: Natural Hazards, Alaska
Ash and plume lightning over the Sakurajima volcano, southern Japan eruption in February of 2013
February 28, 2013

Sakurajima Volcano - Ash and Plume Lightning, February 2013

Ash and plume lightning over the Sakurajima volcano, southern Japan eruption in February of 2013.

video thumbnail: Volcano Hazards
July 30, 2012

Volcano Hazards

The United States has 169 active volcanoes. More than half of them could erupt explosively, sending ash up to 20,000 or 30,000 feet where commercial air traffic flies. USGS scientists are working to improve our understanding of volcano hazards to help protect communities and reduce the risks.

Video Sections:

  • Volcanoes: Monitoring Volcanoes
Image: Eyjafjallajökull Eruption
April 17, 2010

Eyjafjallajökull Eruption

Photograph of the eruption from the summit of Eyjafjallajökull from the north looking to the south across the Gígjökull outlet glacier, its "missing" proglacial (ice-margin) lake caused by the jökulhlaup that filled in the lake. 


Ash is resuspended from Redoubt Volcano eruption
March 28, 2009

Ash is resuspended from Redoubt Volcano eruption

Ash is resuspended from Redoubt Volcano eruption

Attribution: Natural Hazards, Alaska
Large umbrella shaped cloud of volcanic ash viewed from a distance
June 15, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991 towering above farms and agricultural lands in the Philippines.

Volcano erupting and spewing a huge cloud of rock and ash into the sky.
May 18, 1980

Mount Saint Helens eruption

On Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., the bulging north flank of Mount St. Helens slid away in a massive landslide -- the largest in recorded history. Seconds later, the uncorked volcano exploded and blasted rocks northward across forest ridges and valleys, destroying everything in its path within minutes.

video thumbnail: Mount St. Helens 1980 Ash Cloud as Seen From Space
May 17, 1980

Mount St. Helens 1980 Ash Cloud as Seen From Space

Eruptive activity at Mount St. Helens captured the world’s attention on May 18, 1980 when the largest historical landslide on Earth and a powerful explosion reshaped the volcano. A volcanic ash cloud spread across the US in 3 days, and encircled the Earth in 15 days.

This mini-movie compiled from individual satellite images taken in 1980 shows the ash cloud as it