In an article published in the National Geographic, recent research shows that the eruption of super volcanoes may not be as damaging to the climate as originally thought. The Toba volcano located on Sumatra is estimated to have 5,000 times the force of the historical Mt. Helen’s eruption. The eruption of Toba was so powerful that the walls of the mountain completely collapsed from the explosion of force.
Toba is considered the largest volcanic eruption in the last two million years, spewing enough lava to create two more mountains the size of Mount Everest.
Toba fortunately never erupted during modern times. The super volcano’s massive eruption happened some 74,000 years ago, spewing a massive amount of toxic gas and ash into the atmosphere. The amount of ash in the atmosphere cooled the planet significantly, and it may have devastated the lives of early humans. A new study also reveals that it affected the atmosphere so much, it rained sulphuric acid upon both of the Earth’s poles.
Scientists are still debating on the possible immediate and long term effects of such a massive volcanic eruption. Some of them agree that it lead to an ice age lasting a thousand years, killing off our ancestors and forcing them to the brink of extinction with only 10,000 surviving individuals. On the other hand, the explosion of the Indonesian volcano may have just displaced these early humans, forcing them to live near the Indian peninsula instead.
In a recent study of Antarctic ice cores, a layer of acid rain tainted ice reveals that the volcanic eruption may not have been as disruptive as originally believed. According to the Antarctic ice cores, there seems to have been a relative warming effect immediately after the eruption, which contradicts the massive cooling found in different ice cores taken from Greenland.
The co-author of the study, Anders Svensson says that there probably wasn’t a massive cooling event in the first place because an ice age would typically be manifested most in the poles. He also notes that the cooling after the eruption of Toba seems to be just a regular cooling event instead of an ice age, which is considerably rarer.
“There may have been shorter [global] cooling of a duration of maybe 10 or 20 years, like we see for more recent”—and much less powerful—”volcanoes,” said Svensson. Svensson works for the Niels Bohr Institute’s Centre for Ice and Climate in Copenhagen.
Scientists are currently analysing the ice cores further in order to more accurately determine when the Toba volcano actually erupted. Learning the exact date of the eruption would help archaeologists date human remains and artefacts more accurately. This will help us learn more about our ancient human ancestors and their lives before the eruption of the volcano. It will also help us learn more about climate change and how a cataclysmic event like this would affect us in the future.