The long term control of Earth's climate is related to volcanoes, which emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Volcanism itself is also influenced by climate through ice age cycles. A thick layer of ice enclosing a volcano on land inhibits eruption. When the ice melts, eruptability is enhanced . For undersea volcanoes, sea level change influences eruptability.
In this project we explore the linkages between ice age cycles, volcanism and the carbon cycle. We have found that volcanoes become three to five times more active during melting of ice sheets, and the increased carbon they emit to the atmosphere influences how quickly Earth transitions from frigid glacial to the more mild interglacial, such as we are now experiencing . We have also found that ocean ridge volcanoes respond to sea level change, with more faulting and less volcanism when sea level is rising. The powerful hydrothermal vents at the ridge also respond to changes in the volcanic budget influenced by sea level change.
These studies involve cruises to undersea volcanoes, field work on land, exhaustive chemical analyses of volcanic rocks and deep sea sediments, and detailed modeling of all aspects of the coupled volcano/climate system.