Bipolar ice-core records constrain possible dates and global radiative forcing following the ∼74 ka Toba eruption

The Younger Toba Tuff eruption ∼74 ka ago in Indonesia, is among the largest known supereruptions in the Quaternary and its potential impact on the climate system and human evolution remains controversially debated. The eruption is dated radiometrically to 73.88 ± 0.32 ka (1σ, Storey et al., 2012) and it occurred at the abrupt cooling transition from Greenland Interstadial 20 to Greenland Stadial 20. The precise stratigraphic position of volcanic fallout detected in ice cores from both polar ice sheets has previously been narrowed down to four potential candidates. Here, we compile all available Greenland and Antarctic sulfate records, together with electrical conductivity records and recently obtained sulfur isotope records to identify, quantify and characterize these Toba candidates in terms of their likely latitudinal position of eruption, sulfur emission strength and radiative forcing. We identify that the youngest event of the four candidates is composed of two separate eruptions, both likely located in the extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere. We deem the two older events unlikely candidates for the Toba eruption because of their limited sulfur emission strengths. The second youngest event has the largest sulfur output of the Toba candidates, and it is also larger than any other volcanic event identified in ice core records over the last 60 kyr. Comparable amounts of sulfate deposits in Greenland and Antarctica strongly suggest a tropical source. We thus propose the second youngest event (74,156 years before 2000 CE) to be most likely associated with the Toba eruption. The estimated stratospheric sulfate loading of the proposed Toba eruption is 535 ± 96 Tg, which is 3 times that of Samalas 1258 CE, 6 times that of Tambora (1815) CE and 20 times that of Pinatubo (1991) CE. We derive the continuous time-series of volcanic sulfate deposition, sulfur emission strength and radiative forcing over the 74.8–73.8 ka time window, suitable for conducting experiments with climate models that either require prescribed forcing field or interactively reproduce aerosol processes. We estimate the cumulative volcanic sulfur emission strength and the radiative forcing of the two younger events and they are found to be much stronger than those at the onset of the Younger Dryas and those preceding the Little Ice Age. Stacked Greenland water isotope records show an accelerated transition trend and abrupt shift after the proposed Toba eruption and suggest that the Greenland moisture source moved southward shortly after the Toba eruption. The Toba eruption may thus have an amplifying effect on the cooling transition leading to Greenland Stadial 20.


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Authors: Lin, Jiamei, Abbott, Peter M., Sigl, Michael, Steffensen, Jørgen P., Mulvaney, Robert ORCIDORCID record for Robert Mulvaney, Severi, Mirko, Svensson, Anders

On this site: Robert Mulvaney
15 July, 2023
Quaternary Science Reviews / 312
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