Volcanic mountains

How studying volcanic eruptions can help us understand climate change

More recently, efforts have been made to deploy permanent gas monitoring stations, which provide up-to-date data on emissions and volcanic activity. “These are only in place on a few volcanoes, but they are becoming more and more common,” says Moussallam. In recent years, theoretical advances are helping scientists understand the behavior of volcanic gas underground, within magma. “Together, these developments allow us to record the gas signal during episodes of volcanic unrest, and try to interpret what this signal means in terms of magmatic processes at depth.” These signals help volcanologists detect eruptions before they occur.

In 2019, Moussallam’s work saw him named among the winners of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Launched in 1976 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Oyster, the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, the awards celebrate exceptional people around the world whose work is dedicated to addressing global challenges, preserving our cultural heritage or making advance our understanding of nature. “The most impactful part of the award was meeting and being part of the community of past winners,” Moussallam said. “This group of people is truly amazing and inspiring. For example, seeing people working with wildlife camera traps gave me the idea to develop a volcano “camera trap” system that detects and sends us a record of any explosive event that occurs. We have now installed this system on the Reventador Volcano in Ecuador. »

After two years of the pandemic disrupting scientific expeditions, Moussallam is now planning new field research trips to collect more data on active volcanoes. “One volcano we hope to visit soon is Sangay in Ecuador,” he says. “It’s a two or three day trek with mules through rainforest just to get to the base of the volcano, but it’s very active with frequent pyroclastic flows and its gas emissions have never been measured. .”

For Moussallam, his research answers fundamental questions about our planet. “The fact that we are still trying to quantify the total flux of gases and aerosols out of volcanoes shows that, despite the huge amount of knowledge we have accumulated in our understanding of the Earth system, there are still many fundamental questions to be answered. solve. .”

And when it comes to volcanic winters, don’t be tempted to assume that an eruption of the magnitude seen in 536 or 1815 is the answer to our climate problems. “First, because the cooling effect would only be short-lived, a few years at most for an eruption of this size,” says Moussallam. “And second, because a sharp, abrupt global cooling can have catastrophic impacts on agricultural production and food security globally.”

In other words?

“Volcanoes won’t save us,” he says. “Only we can.”

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