Your gas guzzling truck might not be the only reason for climate change. A new study is out this week and is pointing the finger at underwater volcanoes for natural variations in climate change.

The study’s author says climate scientists need to take into account seafloor volcanoes.

“People have ignored seafloor volcanoes on the idea that their influence is small — but that’s because they are assumed to be in a steady state, which they’re not,” says study author Maya Tolstoy.

Tolstoy is a marine geophysicist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Scientists have believed underwater volcanoes ooze lava at steady rates along mid-ocean ridges. This new study shows these volcanoes flare up at surprisingly regular cycles. These cycles can range from near-term (two weeks) to very long-term (100,000 years). Another surprise? The flare ups almost always happen during the first six months of each year.

According to the study, these flare ups are tied to short and long-term changes in our planet’s orbit, and to sea levels. I’ll let the press release explain how Earth’s orbit, and gravity, could affect volcano eruptions.

Some scientists think volcanoes may act in concert with Milankovitch cycles–repeating changes in the shape of earth’s solar orbit, and the tilt and direction of its axis — to produce suddenly seesawing hot and cold periods. The major one is a 100,000-year cycle in which the planet’s orbit around the sun changes from more or less an annual circle into an ellipse that annually brings it closer or farther from the sun. Recent ice ages seem to build up through most of the cycle; but then things suddenly warm back up near the orbit’s peak eccentricity. The causes are not clear.

How much carbon dioxide is released by these underwater eruptions? That’s a question climate scientists are going to want to answer. If it’s significant, it could mean major changes to climate models.

Several scientists from prominent institutions praised the research. David Fornari, a scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution called the study “a very important contribution.”

Edward Baker of NOAA said, “The most interesting takeaway from this paper is that it provides further evidence that the solid Earth, and the air and water all operate as a single system.”

Image credit: NOAA

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