VICS - Volcanic Impacts on Climate and Society



The VICS working group supports research focused on reconstructing the history of past explosive volcanism, in addition to research utilizing this knowledge to better understand how the climate system responds to changes in radiative forcing, and how societies have been impacted by and responded to the resulting climatic shocks.


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- Improve and extend reconstructions of past volcanic eruptions and their associated regional and global radiative impacts from a variety of proxy sources.
- Advance physical understanding of different components of the climate system through analysis of their responses to volcanic forcing as recorded in climate proxies and simulated by climate models.
- Support investigation of the response of societies to sudden climate shocks resulting from volcanic eruptions.


Matthew Toohey (Group Lead and Mailing List Administrator)
Kevin Anchukaitis
Allegra N. LeGrande
Francis Ludlow
Michael Sigl
Celine Vidal


Phase 1
Phase 2

Volcanic eruptions are an awe-inspiring example of a natural driver of environmental change.

At the local scale, erupted lava, ash and gases can impact ecosystems, human health and economies.

Global scale impacts can be produced by large-magnitude explosive eruptions, like those of Mt. Pinatubo (1991) or Tambora (1815), which inject sulfur into the stratosphere, resulting in the formation of sulfate aerosols that act to backscatter incoming solar radiation.

 vics taupo phase2

Figure 1: Lake Taupo, New Zealand, in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano. The Taupo volcano has produced some of the largest eruptions of the Holocene, including eruptions around 233 CE and 1460 BCE. In the background, the active volcano Mount Ngauruhoe is visible - the film location of "Mount Doom" in "The Lord of the Rings" movies, which last erupted in the 20th century. Image credit: Johanna Feil.

Volcanic stratospheric sulfate aerosol is the dominant natural driver of past climate variability, generating large-scale surface cooling and altering atmospheric circulation patterns, with complex consequences at the regional scale.

The comparison of paleoclimate records and model simulations of periods with strong volcanic activity provides important insights for understanding the global and regional climate responses to external forcing agents. This in turn informs predictions of future climate change, such as that due to projected increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Finally, the rapid large-scale effects of volcanic eruptions and the increasing precision of information from natural archives such as ice cores concerning the timing and magnitude of past eruptions make for powerful case studies of climate impacts, vulnerability and resilience in past societies, with potential lessons for the future.

Phase 2

Phase 1 (2015-2018) focused primarily on the Common Era. In Phase 2 (2019-2022), VICS will extend its scope to the full Holocene (11.7 ka BP), and beyond. Volcanic forcing will be reconstructed and made available for the full Holocene, and for significant events even deeper in time for which proxy records are available, e.g. Taupo (25.3 ka BP) and Toba (75 ka BP). Investigation of climate and societal impacts will shift to eruptions with greater magnitudes than found in the Common Era, such as the Mt. Mazama (approx. 5620 BCE) and Santorini (approx. 1600 BCE) eruptions. The second phase will culminate with a review paper summarizing the scientific basis for a connection between volcanic eruptions and societies. This final goal will serve as a motivation over the full lifetime of the working group, to identify and eliminate gaps in the multi-step arguments linking eruptions to societal change.

VICS is largely motivated by the needs of the climate modeling community. Within Phase 1, VICS helped foster the development of a new volcanic forcing reconstruction which will be used in activities associated with the 6th phase of the Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6), including both the Model Intercomparison Project on the climatic response to Volcanic forcing (VolMIP) and the Paleoclimate Modeling Intercomparison Project (PMIP). In Phase 2, VICS aims to provide information on volcanic forcing for other modeling experiments, including simulations of the Holocene.

Volcanic eruptions - and the role of eruptions in shaping past climate and societal changes - is a topic of deeply interdisciplinary research, and has also resonated greatly in popular culture. Therefore, VICS fosters research that engages multiple disciplines (e.g. climate science, history, archaeology, volcanology) and which reach a large and diverse audience through high-ranking journals, the popular press and web-based journalism.

PAGES' structure

The aims of VICS are most strongly associated with the "Climate" theme of PAGES' Science Structure. Volcanism is a primary driver of climate variability on global and regional scales, and has been linked to many climate processes such as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, ENSO, the NAO, and the tropical monsoons.

Volcanic signals in proxies are an invaluable tool in producing chronologies - most notably for dating and matching between different ice cores - but also for synchronizing ice core and tree-ring chronologies. The response of different climate proxies to volcanic forcing is useful for calibrating and validating those proxies. Finally, volcanic eruptions provide an important test for climate models, helping to assure that their response to external forcing is realistic, thereby providing confidence in future climate predictions.

VICS will also have a strong component focused on the societal impacts of historical and hypothetical future eruptions, connecting it to the "Humans" theme of the Science Structure. The interdisciplinary aspect of VICS makes it a natural fit with the Extreme Events and Risk Assessment Integrative Activity.

VICS will use data provided by the PAGES 2k Network in order to better understand the regional-scale climate responses to volcanic forcing, e.g. the impact on the Monsoon and the North Atlantic region. Volcanic forcing reconstructions will be deposited to an archive of the ICSU-World Data System (WDS).

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This group is open to anyone who is interested. To participate, please contact a member of the Steering Group.