Articles | Volume 12, issue 4
Research article
15 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 15 Apr 2016

The influence of volcanic eruptions on the climate of tropical South America during the last millennium in an isotope-enabled general circulation model

Christopher M. Colose, Allegra N. LeGrande, and Mathias Vuille

Abstract. Currently, little is known on how volcanic eruptions impact large-scale climate phenomena such as South American paleo-Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) position and summer monsoon behavior. In this paper, an analysis of observations and model simulations is employed to assess the influence of large volcanic eruptions on the climate of tropical South America. This problem is first considered for historically recent volcanic episodes for which more observations are available but where fewer events exist and the confounding effects of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) lead to inconclusive interpretation of the impact of volcanic eruptions at the continental scale. Therefore, we also examine a greater number of reconstructed volcanic events for the period 850 CE to present that are incorporated into the NASA GISS ModelE2-R simulation of the last millennium.

An advantage of this model is its ability to explicitly track water isotopologues throughout the hydrologic cycle and simulating the isotopic imprint following a large eruption. This effectively removes a degree of uncertainty associated with error-prone conversion of isotopic signals into climate variables, and allows for a direct comparison between GISS simulations and paleoclimate proxy records.

Our analysis reveals that both precipitation and oxygen isotope variability respond with a distinct seasonal and spatial structure across tropical South America following an eruption. During austral winter, the heavy oxygen isotope in precipitation is enriched, likely due to reduced moisture convergence in the ITCZ domain and reduced rainfall over northern South America. During austral summer, however, more negative values of the precipitation isotopic composition are simulated over Amazonia, despite reductions in rainfall, suggesting that the isotopic response is not a simple function of the "amount effect". During the South American monsoon season, the amplitude of the temperature response to volcanic forcing is larger than the rather weak and spatially less coherent precipitation signal, complicating the isotopic response to changes in the hydrologic cycle.

Short summary
Volcanic forcing is the most important source of forced variability during the preindustrial component of the last millennium (~ 850-1850 CE) and is important during the last century.

Here, we focus on the climate impact over South America in a model-based study. Emphasis is given to temperature, precipitation, and oxygen isotope variability (allowing for potential contact made with paleoclimate-based observations)