American Geophysical Union (AGU) Chapman Conference on Volcanism and the Atmosphere

Start Date: 
Monday, June 11, 2012
End Date: 
Friday, June 15, 2012

Location: Selfoss, Iceland


Convenors: Michael Rampino (, Alan Robock (, Thorvaldur Thordarson (

Conference objectives and general description:

Volcanic eruptions can have a profound effect on the Earth’s atmosphere and environment on all time scales.  From being the source of most gases in the atmosphere over geologic time to producing climate change detectable over the past millennia, to threatening aviation, volcanic eruptions provide a strong link between Earth’s activity and its influence on the atmosphere and human history.  To better understand these phenomena, the International Association of Volcanism and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) and the International Association for Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences (IAMAS) formed the Commission on Volcanism and the Earth’s Atmosphere at the AGU Chapman Conference on “Climate, Volcanism and Global Change” in Hilo Hawaii in 1992 following the largest eruption of the 20th Century, Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.  On June 17-21, 2002, the same groups sponsored a second 10th anniversary Chapman Conference in Santorini, Greece, entitled “Chapman Conference on Volcanism and the Earth's Atmosphere”, which also resulted in publication of an AGU monograph.

In the decade since the last meeting in 2002 there have been significant developments in this area in both the academic and broader arenas. We now understand the impacts of volcanic eruptions on climate and aviation better. For example, we have learned more about the winter warming effect on Northern Hemisphere continents, about effects on ozone depletion, the effects of volcanic ash clouds on aviation routes, about the potential for supervolcanoes to disrupt civilization, and about possible limitations on the lifetime and impact of volcanic aerosol clouds. We have also seen proposals for geoengineering schemes to place sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to counter global warming, for which volcanic eruptions serve as the most important analog, as well as the paralysis of aviation in the North Atlantic region for over 10 days by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.

To review this progress and stimulate new work in this important area, we are holding a third Chapman Conference on volcanic eruptions and the atmosphere, this time broadening it to specifically include aviation. The meeting will be in Iceland, near the sites of one of the most important eruptions of the last few centuries, the Laki eruption of AD 1783, the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption, which also disrupted aviation. This conference will also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1912 Katmai (Novarupta) eruption in Alaska, and devote one session to that eruption, including the effects of high-latitude eruptions on climate.  2012 is also the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Confirmed invited speakers:

Mark Baldwin (Northwest Research Associates)
Lindy Elkins-Stanton (Carnegie Institution for Science)
Áslaug Geirsdóttir (University of Iceland)
Hans-F. Graf (University of Cambridge)
Wes Hildreth (University of Hawaii)
Bruce Houghton (University of Hawaii)
Phil Jones (University of East Anglia)
Mike Mann (Penn State University)
Giff Miller (University of Colorado)
Brian Toon (University of Colorado)

Format and schedule:

The meeting will span five days, with Wednesday being reserved for the field trip to specific sites in the Fire Districts in South Iceland, including localities illustrating key features of the 1783-84 Laki and 934-40 Eldgjá flood lava eruptions as well as Holocene records of explosive eruptions in Iceland.  The schedule is designed to maximize discussion and debate opportunities, and to make the meeting accessible to a broad audience.  Each meeting day will consist of a morning session with invited talks, a late afternoon keynote lecture and poster introductions, and then continuing with a poster session with refreshments before dinner.  All participants, including all the speakers, will bring posters.  Each afternoon will have an extensive unstructured period after lunch for discussions and/or recreation.  Short field trips will be organized during this period for Tuesday and Friday.  The conference will cover the following topics:

  • Records of past volcanic eruptions, including ice cores and tephra records
  • Remote sensing of volcanic eruptions
  • Volcanic eruptions and aviation
  • Effects of volcanic emissions on the atmosphere and climate, including atmospheric chemistry, carbon cycle, and impacts of ash on the ocean, land, and ice
  • Impacts of volcanic eruptions on climate, including the dynamics of the coupled atmosphere ocean systems
  • The role of volcanism in climate change of the Holocene
  • Supereruptions and climate, including observations and climate model simulations
  • Volcanic eruptions as an analog for stratospheric geoengineering

Field trips:

Main field trip (Wednesday): The conference venue is in the region of Iceland known as the Fire Districts, named so because it has experience the effects of volcanic eruptions more than any other region in the country. Since settlement in the late 9th century, the Fire Districts have been subjected to numerous tephra falls from explosive eruptions at Katla, Hekla, Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga volcanoes and is the site of two largest historical flood lava eruptions in Iceland, the 1783-84 Laki and 934-40 Eldgjá events. We intend to take full advantage of the conference location via one-day field trip by visiting key sites that (a) reveal the regions explosive eruption record in historical time, (b) illustrate the nature, magnitude and impact of the 1783-84 Laki and 934-40 Eldgjá events and (c) highlight the natural wonders of the region.

There will also be a field trip on Saturday that will require additional payment: Leave in the morning to visit Jökulsárlón. The objectives of the trip would be: (a) Illustrate the spectacles of the sandur plains and Öræfi district (which includes Jökulsárlón), which are captivating to say the least, (b) Demonstrate the effects of global warming through the clearly visible record of retreating outlet glaciers, and (c) Visit a site with good records of the 1362 Öræfajökull explosive eruption, which is one of the biggest historical Plinian eruptions in Iceland and wiped out a prosperous farming community that had been established on the plains surrounding the volcano. We may even be able to visit one of the farm ruins. After the tour, drive back to Reykjavik, arriving in the early evening.

On Tuesday and Friday afternoons, participants will have the choice of one of the following short trips. Two will be offered on each day. This will be included in the conference cost:

  • A short hiking trip of the area around Kirkjubæjarklaustur, which would explore the history and nature of the site: The ruins of the monestry; Systrafoss (the Nun-waterfall) and the pond they made above it and utilized as a bathing facility; Eldmessutangi where Jón Steingrímsson conducted his Fire Mass as well as other aspects of the Laki story.
  • Trip to Fjaðrárgljúfur (a spectacular 100 m deep gorge close to Klaustur) as well as the Viking ruins that are close by.
  • Trip to Foss á Síðu and Dverghamrar – spectacular farm site plus nice example of columnar jointed lava, which can be complemented by examination of the Key features of the Síða Formation, which includes rather unusual lava flows.
  • A trip that is focused on examining the explosive eruption (i.e., tephra fall) record in the region over the last 8500 years.
Selfoss, Iceland