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Climate-Volcanism Feedback and the Toba Eruption of ∼74,000 Years Ago

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Michael R. Rampino
Earth Systems Group, Department of Applied Science, New York University, New York, New York 10003; and NASA, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York 10025
Stephen Self
Department of Geology and Geophysics, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822


A general feedback between volcanism and climate at times of transition in the Quaternary climate record is suggested, exemplified by events accompanying the Toba eruption (∼74,000 yr ago), the largest known late Quaternary explosive volcanic eruption. The Toba paroxysm occurred during the δ18O stage 5a-4 transition, a period of rapid ice growth and falling global sea level, which may have been a factor in creating stresses that triggered the volcanic event. Toba is estimated to have produced between 1015 and 1016 g of fine ash and sulfur gases lofted in co-ignimbrite ash clouds to heights of at least 32 ± 5 km, which may have led to dense stratospheric dust and sulfuric acid aerosol clouds. These conditions could have created a brief, dramatic cooling or "volcanic winter," followed by estimated annual Northern Hemisphere surface-temperature decreases of ∼3° to 5°C caused by the longer-lived aerosols. Summer temperature decreases of ⩾10°C at high northern latitudes, adjacent to regions already covered by snow and ice, might have increased snow cover and sea-ice extent, accelerating the global cooling already in progress. Evidence for such climate-volcanic feedback, following Milankovitch periodicities, is found at several climatic transitions.

Research Article
University of Washington

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