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Volcanic Dust in the Atmosphere; with a Chronology and Assessment of Its Meteorological Significance

H. H. Lamb


After defining the terms commonly used in reporting volcanic eruptions and noting previous approaches to assessment of their magnitudes, this study proceeds to examine aspects of importance, or possible importance, to meteorology-principally the dust veils created in the atmosphere, particle sizes and distribution, heights, fall speeds and atmospheric residence times. Later sections deal with spread of the dust by the atmospheric circulation and the direct effects apparent upon radiation, surface temperature and extent of ice in the polar regions. These effects, as well as various crude measures of the total quantity of solid matter thrown up, are used to arrive at numerical assessments of volcanic eruptions in terms of a dust veil index (d.v.i.). The latitude of origin of the dust (latitude of the volcano) receives some attention, and apparently affects the course of development of the atmospheric circulation over the three or four years following, at least in the case of great eruptions (d.v.i. > 100 over one hemisphere). Effects upon the extent of ice on the polar seas may be of somewhat longer duration, and thereby influence the atmospheric circulation over a longer period of years, since there seems to be some association with the cumulative d.v.i. values when successive great eruptions occur with only few years between. The time distribution of volcanic dust since the last Ice Age, and since A.D. 1500, are indicated in as much detail as the evidence permits. Some associations with changes of climate are suggested, but it is clear that volcanic dust is not the only, and probably not the main, influence in this. The appendices give a chronology of eruptions (including those which it seems possible to dismiss as regards any effect on world weather or climate) and a chronology of d.v.i. values. A third appendix displays by means of graphs the variation of some circulation parameters in January and July in the region of northwest Europe over the years immediately following forty of the greatest eruptions since 1680.

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