High latitude volcanic eruptions are high-frequency and intensity events capable of releasing large amounts of aerosols into the environment. Studies have shown that the Arctic is particularly sensitive to radiative perturbations due to aerosols, and a high sensitivity to volcanic aerosols would be expected. Despite the potential for volcanic aerosols to significantly perturb the Arctic radiation balance, the radiative impacts of volcanic aerosols in the Arctic are poorly understood and have received less attention than the effects of other aerosol types that are often present in the region, both natural and anthropogenic. A novel review of this topic is presented in detail in this chapter, focusing on the current state of the knowledge and the natural complexities involved with the problem, the important research tools, and the improvements that can be made over the status quo. The Arctic environment is both unique and complicated, and the perturbations caused by volcanic aerosol need to be examined in a regional context. An introduction to remote sensing and data collection in the Arctic is provided because there are often specific challenges, including high surface reflectivities, persistent meteorological clouds, the lack of winter daylight, and harsh conditions that hamper both in situ and remote data collection. Methods for tracking both aerosol and gas plumes in the Arctic that can help mitigate these issues are introduced. In addition to the physical constraints of data collection presented by the Arctic environment, volcanic aerosol is a complex mixture of varying aerosol compositions and sizes. Dealing with the nature of volcanic aerosol for optical calculations is further described, leading into a detailed discussion of the radiative impacts of volcanic plumes in the atmosphere. Radiative forcing comparisons of other aerosol types with comparable plume characteristics (e.g., thicknesses and optical depths) suggest that aerosol layers composed of significant proportions of volcanic ash can dominate the aerosol forcing in the region. Similar comparisons for ash deposits with other types of deposits that can be present in the region emphasize the ability of volcanic ash to produce large, and in some cases extreme, loadings that reduce albedo, which can have profound impacts on the Arctic radiation balance and hydrological cycle. The strengths and shortcomings of volcanic ash transport and dispersion models are reviewed and recommendations are made for future research that would strengthen the use of these models in Arctic environments. In particular, ash aggregation (or the sticking together of ash particles) is often not considered fully in transport modeling, and the consequences of this are discussed. Finally, we present a review of secondary volcanic impacts to oceans and ecosystems that have not been constrained in an Arctic context but are potentially important to the Arctic environment and the global CO2 cycle.
Part of the book: Updates in Volcanology