View Full Version : Volcanic activity and changes in rotation rate

2014-Sep-25, 08:30 PM
Laboratory Equipment magazine (http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2014/09/there-may-be-volcano-season?et_cid=4173856&et_rid=54636800&type=image)

The Earth seems to have been smoking a lot recently. Volcanoes are currently erupting in Iceland, Hawaii, Indonesia and Mexico. Others, in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, erupted recently but seem to have calmed down. Many of these have threatened homes and forced evacuations. But among their less-endangered spectators, these eruptions may have raised a question: is there such a thing as a season for volcanic eruptions?

Surprisingly, this may be a possibility. While volcanoes may not have “seasons” as we know them, scientists have started to discern intriguing patterns in their activity.

Because of factors like the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, the speed at which the Earth rotates constantly changes. Accordingly the length of a day actually varies from year to year. The difference is only in the order of milliseconds. But new research suggests that this seemingly small perturbation could bring about significant changes on our planet – or more accurately, within it.

In February 2014, a study in the journal Terra Nova showed that, since the early 19th century, changes in the Earth’s rotation rate tended to be followed by increases in global volcanic activity. It found that, between 1830 and 2013, the longest period for which a reliable record was available, relatively large changes in rotation rate were immediately followed by an increase in the number of large volcanic eruptions. And, more than merely being correlated, the authors believe that the rotation changes might actually have triggered these large eruptions.

Altering the spin of a planet, even by a small amount, requires a huge amount of energy. It has been estimated that changes in the Earth’s rotation rate dissipate around 120,000 petajoules of energy each year – enough to power the United States for the same length of time. This energy is transferred into the Earth’s atmosphere and subsurface. And it is this second consequence that the Terra Nova authors believe could affect volcanoes.

Link to journal's abstract (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ter.12073/abstract)

The angular velocity of Earth's rotation shows decadal oscillations due to the lunisolar gravitational torque, as well as inter- or intra-annual changes arising from the angular momentum exchange between the atmosphere and the solid Earth. The energies involved in the Length of Day (LOD) variations may affect the crustal deformation rate and seismic energy release on a global scale. We found significant correlation between the occurrences of major volcanic eruptions and the LOD pattern since AD 1750. On a multiyear scale, eruption frequency worldwide increases with LOD changes. Moreover, the injection of sulphur gases into the atmosphere during major eruptions is accompanied by significant inter-annual LOD variations. This provides evidence of complex mutual cause-and-effect interactions: stress changes induced by multiyear variations in Earth's spin may affect climactic volcanic activity; also, the atmosphere's dynamic response to volcanic plumes may result in global changes of wind circulation and climate, with consequent LOD variations.