Volcanoes are some of Earth’s most fascinating features. There are around 1350 of them active worldwide, with some larger and much more dangerous than others.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at how they affect the earth, and specifically answer: Do volcanoes pollute the air?
In a nutshell, the volcanic ash that volcano eruptions cause can pollute the air, and it can also be harmful to us humans. However, volcanic ash can also be good for the environment in some ways.
Let’s take a closer look…
What Is Volcanic Ash?
Volcanic ash is a mixture of rock, mineral, and glass particles that are expelled by a volcano during an eruption.
There are also some glass particles within volcanic ash, which are a result of the speed at which the magma cools down from its molten state.
Most particles of volcanic ash are typically less than 2mm in diameter, but there are some much larger pieces called “lapilli’ that can be between 4mm and 32mm.
According to sources such as Forbes, volcanic ash can also contain toxic aerosols such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric, and hydrofluoric acid.
When a volcano erupts and the ash shoots up into the atmosphere, it can be caught by the wind and carried around for hundreds of miles, much further than the actual site of the eruption.
Do Volcanoes Actually Pollute The Air?
So, do volcanoes pollute the air? Yes, they do.
When a volcano erupts, it shoots volcanic ash high up into the stratosphere, which can have an impact on climate change.
During large eruptions, huge amounts of volcanic gas, aerosol droplets, and ash are injected into the stratosphere and the ash starts to rain down into the earth’s atmosphere.
Thankfully, most of it is removed within a couple of days, sometimes up to a few weeks, and has no impact on climate change.
However, some volcanic gases such as sulfur dioxide can cause global cooling, and gases such as carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases have the potential to promote global warming.
The most significant climate change impact from volcano eruptions comes from the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfur acid, which condenses rapidly in the stratosphere to form sulfite aerosols.
These aerosols increase the reflection of radiation from the sun back into space which cools the earth’s lower atmosphere and troposphere.
How Does Volcanic Ash Affect The Environment And Humans?
Volcano eruptions can impact both the environment and humans in a number of ways, which makes them more dangerous than they appear on the surface.
Although an eruption volcano is terrifying, the after-effects of their eruptions can also be catastrophic.
As mentioned above, climate change is one of the biggest impacts of a volcanic eruption. With gases being released into the atmosphere and aerosols reflecting radiation which in turn cools the earth.
In some extreme cases, “volcanic winters” can affect weather patterns across the globe. For example, in 1815 the eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia, was the largest volcanic eruption recorded in history.
This eruption ejected an estimated 150 cubic kilometers of debris into the air which cooled the average global temperature by 3° Celsius and caused extreme weather all around the world for three years.
Volcanic plumes can be incredibly large, so large that they can turn daylight into darkness and drastically reduce visibility for many in the area.
These huge ash clouds are also often accompanied by thunder and lightning. Volcanic lightning is a natural phenomenon with many scientists still puzzled as to how it happens.
Many scientists believe that the sheer amount of energy being released during a volcanic eruption charges the ash particles with electricity.
Therefore when positively charged particles meet with negatively charged particles, lightning bolts occur as a means of balancing these charges.
But it’s not all bad, volcanic ash can be a great fertilizer for farms, gardens and other landscapes as the ash carry essential nutrients with it.
The ash can also hold air, and the air spaces it creates can insulate plants against temperature change.
The effects of volcanic eruptions can be huge on the environment, and leave an impact that scars the earth for years after.
Given that volcanic ash contains glass particles and can be carried for hundreds of miles from the eruption site, once inhaled by humans it can lacerate lungs when inhaled.
This can be incredibly dangerous for those with breathing conditions such as Asthma, as over time breathing in the particles can make these illnesses worse.
Not only that, but freshly fallen ash particles can contain acid coatings that can cause irritation to the lungs and eyes.
Eye symptoms can include eyes becoming bloodshot, itchy, and irritated and corneal abrasions.
Skin problems have also been caused by volcanic eruptions, which are often due to scratching, with some developing infections.
If there is a volcanic eruption in your area, or an ash ploom coming over your city, ensure you stay indoors and protect yourself as much as possible, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.
Keep your windows closed, and line entryways to your home with damp towels to prevent ash from entering.
Is Volcanic Ash A Natural Pollutant?
Volcanic ash is a natural pollutant, and although it can be detrimental to the environment and landscapes in some ways, it can be good in others.
Large amounts of volcanic ash pose a threat to ecosystems, which includes people and animals.
The result of large amounts of volcanic ash can cause animal deformities, crop failures, as well as multiple human illnesses as set out earlier in the post.
Given the fact that volcanic ash is incredibly difficult to clean up, it makes its way into almost everything, including motor vehicles, ventilation systems, and people’s homes.
This can causes faults with expensive tools and machinery, financially impact businesses, and erode anything that it comes into contact with.
Volcanic ash can stick to surfaces and strip anything that is underneath.
Cleaning up volcanic ash is a huge effort, and requires whole communities to come together and dispose of the ash whilst maintaining proper health and safety.
So, do volcanoes pollute the air? Yes, they certainly do, when they erupt.
Volcanic ash can be harmful to the environment as well as to people in many different ways. It’s incredibly difficult to clean up and can travel for hundreds of miles in the wind.
The effects of climate change can be dramatic after a volcanic eruption, with extreme cases affecting weather patterns for as long as three years afterward.
Hopefully, this post has given you an insight into volcanic ash as a pollutant, and why it can be good in some ways but harmful in others.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve learned something today.
Feel free to stick around to learn more about volcanoes and other extreme weather and natural phenomenon events.
Hey, I’m Sam – the founder of GustyPlanet. I’ve had a fascination with all things weather for as long as I can remember. I witnessed my first tornado at the age of 6, and since then became an avid storm chaser that is hooked on learning as much as I can about extreme weather. This blog was created to share my knowledge and to expand and delve deeper into the wonderful world of weather phenomena. I hope you enjoy your stay here and thanks for visiting.