Volcanic forcing of climate over the past 1500 years: An improved ice core-based index for climate models

Chaochao Gao, Alan Robock, Caspar Ammann

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422 Scopus citations


Understanding natural causes of climate change is vital to evaluate the relative impacts of human pollution and land surface modification on climate. We have investigated one of the most important natural causes of climate change, volcanic eruptions, by using 54 ice core records from both the Arctic and Antarctica. Our recently collected suite of ice core data, more than double the number of cores ever used before, reduces errors inherent in reconstructions based on a single or small number of cores, which enables us to obtain much higher accuracy in both detection of events and quantification of the radiative effects. We extracted volcanic deposition signals from each ice core record by applying a high-pass loess filter to the time series and examining peaks that exceed twice the 31-year running median absolute deviation. We then studied the spatial pattern of volcanic sulfate deposition on Greenland and Antarctica and combined this knowledge with a new understanding of stratospheric transport of volcanic aerosols to produce a forcing data set as a functon of month, latitude, and altitude for the past 1500 years. We estimated the uncertainties associated with the choice of volcanic signal extraction criteria, ice core sulfate deposition to stratospheric loading calibration factor, and the season for the eruptions without a recorded month. We forced an energy balance climate model with this new volcanic forcing data set, together with solar and anthropogenic forcing, to simulate the large-scale temperature response. The results agree well with instrumental observations for the past 150 years and with proxy records for the entire period. Through better characterization of the natural causes of climate change, this new data set will lead to improved prediction of anthropogenic impacts on climate. The new data set of stratospheric sulfate injections from volcanic eruptions for the past 1500 years, as a function of latitude, altitude, and month, is available for download in a format suitable for forcing general circulation models of the climate system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD23111
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 16 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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