NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The contribution of explosive volcanism to global atmospheric sulphur dioxide concentrations

G. J. S. Bluth, C. C. Schnetzler, A. J. Krueger, and L. S. Walter

Nature (1993), v. 366, 327-329


Abstract. Sulphur dioxide from volcanic eruptions may have a significant effect on the Earth's climate and atmospheric chemistry, and it is therefore important to quantify outgassing rates for all types of volcanic activity. Non-explosive volcanoes (for example, Mount Etna) outgas at relatively constant rates, providing an annual flux of about 9 million tons (Mt) SO2 (ref. 1). By contrast, the outgassing from volcanoes prone to explosive eruptions (such as Mount Pinatubo) is sporadic and much more difficult to quantify. The total annual volcanic SO2 flux is therefore poorly constrained, with ground-based estimates ranging from 1.5 to 50 Mt - up to one quarter of the estimated current anthropogenic contributions. The Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer aboard the NASA satellite Nimbus 7 recorded SO2 emissions from explosive eruptions from November 1978 to May 1993. We use these data to show that the annual flux from explosive volcanism is of the order of 4 Mt SO2, less than half of the non-explosive output. Thus it seems that the total volcanic emission of SO2 to the Earth's atmosphere is about 13 Mt yr-1, which is only 5-10% of the current anthropogenic flux.