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

  • Michael R. Rampino (a1) and Stephen Self (a2)


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.



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