Did the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption cause sea level rise to slow?

Pinatubo91eruption_clark_air_baseSince 1993, satellites have been measuring the planet’s sea level rise and have come to a stunning conclusion: it’s not as bad as they thought. But now a new study published today in Scientific Reports hopes to answer the question of why sea level rise isn’t occurring faster in a global warming world. The latest excuse: The 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption blocked out sunlight, which prevented increased warming of the planet and oceans.

Everything sounds reasonable given the Pinatubo eruption spewed out roughly 17 megatons of sulfur dioxide, which reacts with water vapor to create a tissue-thin haze in the stratosphere that blocks out some sunlight. It takes about two years for this haze to dissipate.

Only in computer models

The study was led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its authors used computer models to subtract the effects of the cooling caused by the volcanic eruption. Once that was done, the computer models showed accelerated sea rise. Here’s the kicker: that would explain only two years of cooling. The sea level rise has been consistent at 2-3 mm per year since the satellite record started.

It goes on to say that after the ocean cooling recovered, sea level rise “began at a rate up to 7 mm.” Note the “up to 7 mm.” That’s because not all sea level rise is created equal; it varies depending on your location and time of year. The average of all the measurements taken still show a rate of only 2-3 mm per year.

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