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This paper is an attempt to measure our understanding of volcano/atmosphere interactions by comparing a box model of potential volcanogenic aerosol production and removal in the stratosphere with the stratospheric aerosol optical depth over the period of 1979 to 1994. Model results and observed data are in good agreement both in magnitude and removal rates for the two largest eruptions, El Chicho´n and Pinatubo. However, the peak of stratospheric optical depth occurs about nine months after the eruptions, four times longer than the model prediction, which is driven by actual SO2 measurements. For smaller eruptions, the observed stratospheric perturbation is typically much less pronounced than modeled, and the observed aerosol removal rates much slower than expected. These results indicate several limitations in our knowledge of the volcano-atmosphere reactions in the months following an eruption. Further, it is evident that much of the emitted sulfur from smaller eruptions fails to produce any stratospheric impact. This suggests a threshold whereby eruption columns that do not rise much higher than the tropopause (which decreases in height from equatorial to polar latitudes) are subject to highly efficient self-removal processes. For low latitude volcanoes during our period of study, eruption rates on the order of 50,000 m3/s (dense rock equivalent) were needed to produce a significant global perturbation in stratospheric optical depth, i.e., greater than 0.001. However, at high (.40°) latitudes, this level of stratospheric impact was produced by eruption rates an order of magnitude smaller.

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1997 by The University of Chicago. Publisher's version of record:

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Journal of Geology


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