The sci-fi movies have taught us so well! Volcanoes are supposed to do the opposite of what they physically able and to fix any disaster that may disrupt human civilization we must use nuclear weapons (a solution Dr. Pillar caught wind of!) That is definitely information that the science books do not inform us of. While this information is extremely helpful for those who have an active imagination, it does not entirely inform those of us who want correct information.
We all know one effect of volcanoes is lava eruptions or flows that could displace hundreds or thousands of people. Ash clouds disrupt visibility creating plane delays and horrible air quality for the people and animals in the area. One effect that is not commonly talked about is the effect of ash from an eruption on the ocean. Volcanic ash has a lot of iron rich particles in its composition and, therefore, when the those particles are sprinkled over the ocean an organism named phytoplankton forms. This organism thrives in iron rich environments and can create problems in the ecosystem. This scenario actually occurred when volcanic eruptions took place along Alaska’s Aleutian island chain. The volcano spread a layer of ash over the Pacific Ocean creating a phytoplankton bloom. Phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide when they die so this was the perfect natural experiment for scientists to test its impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
According to the scientists conducting the experiment, the phytoplankton absorbed only 0.01 petagrams of CO2. The ocean naturally absorbs 2 petagrams of CO2 a year. This a very modest impact when comparing it to the 6.5 petagrams of CO2 released every year by just fossil fuel consumption. This does not even account for the other naturally released CO2 every year. Scientists were hoping that areas with lots of iron and phytoplankton might help offset the CO2 in the air but this seems to not be the case. They have realized that they would have to put a very large amount of iron into the water in order to manufacture the process. This could have detrimental effects on the ecosystem though. It may negatively effect the other species in the ocean and create an environment not suitable for their growth.
I had never really thought about what effect a volcano may have on the oceanic world. It is clear the devastation it can cause on land because it is obvious to the naked eye. In the water though, we have to look on a microscopic level to notice somethings.