Science group: Icelandic volcano won't 'significantly affect' the climate

UCS noted that "even if a volcanic eruption were big enough to temporarily cool the planet, heat-trapping carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and destroying forests would still pose a significant threat."

"Unlike volcanic ash that will leave the atmosphere within a few months or years, carbon dioxide remains there for decades and even centuries," said UCS climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel in a prepared statement.

"Overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide has put us on the path toward a long-term warming trend, so we really can’t pin our hopes on occasional volcanic eruptions to solve the problem," she said.

The group also used the occasion of the eruption to caution against the idea of intentionally launching large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere as a way to cool the planet.

"We’re already conducting a giant experiment with the planet by injecting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," Ekwurzel said. "It's not clear that the potential risks of more human tampering with the climate are worth whatever temporary relief this might provide."

UCS, an advocacy group for environmental causes, released a short primer on the issue of volcanoes and climate. It notes that when sulfur dioxide from eruptions enters the stratosphere, it converts into particles that “act like tiny mirrors” to reflect sunlight back into space, thereby lowering the planet’s temperature.