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Volcano plume of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland that caused disruptions in flights throughout Europe.

Keely sat in the airport terminal waiting for the announcement that her plane could finally take off. Flights had been canceled because of a volcanic eruption, for Pete’s sake! She and her family had been sitting around now for two days, sleeping on the floor, washing off in the bathroom sinks, and eating at fast food stands.

They weren’t alone, of course. There were many people at the airport—all stuck in the same situation. The volcano wasn’t even near the airport! Surely, it would be safe to start flying again soon!

Another family moved to seats near Keely, and she started a conversation with a boy who looked to be about her age just to relieve the boredom. They started talking about the volcanic ash that was delaying their trip. Jake said that his father had explained that even though the volcanic eruption had occurred thousands of miles away, it had thrown the ash high into the atmosphere, and wind currents were carrying the ash around the world. Flights in the path of the ash had to be canceled or delayed for safety reasons.

Keely had heard the same explanation from her parents, so she agreed with Jake until he started to talk about what else his parents had told him. They had also explained that erupting volcanoes had other far-reaching and more serious effects than just delaying flights. Volcanoes emitted gases, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, that absorb energy from sunlight and raise Earth’s temperatures. Jake said that he learned in school that Earth’s temperatures have been rising. His parents had also told him that volcanoes with greenhouse gases are just one of the factors that increase Earth’s global temperatures. Jake didn’t like cold temperatures, so he didn’t think that sounded that bad until his parents added that increasing global temperatures are linked to severe weather events, ice cap melting, and sea level rise. Jake took it a lot more seriously after hearing all of that.

Keely told Jake that her parents had discussed the volcanic eruption with her as well. But they said that volcanic eruptions lower global temperatures! Her parents had explained that active volcanoes emit particles that can block sunlight and, therefore, lower temperatures.

Both opinions made sense, and both were based on the science of volcanoes and eruptions.

Who is correct? Keely or Jake? Do volcanoes increase or decrease temperatures on Earth? Do volcanoes cause climate changes?