Did the Toba volcanic eruption of ∼74 ka B.P. produce widespread glaciation?



[1] It has been suggested that the Toba volcanic eruption, approximately 74 ka B.P., was responsible for the extended cooling period and ice sheet advance immediately following it, but previous climate model simulations, using 100 times the amount of aerosols produced by the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, have been unable to produce such a prolonged climate response. Here we conduct six additional climate model simulations with two different climate models, the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate System Model 3.0 (CCSM3.0) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies ModelE, in two different versions, to investigate additional mechanisms that may have enhanced and extended the forcing and response from such a large supervolcanic eruption. With CCSM3.0 we include a dynamic vegetation model to explicitly calculate the feedback of vegetation death on surface fluxes in response to the large initial reduction in transmitted light, precipitation, and temperature. With ModelE we explicitly calculate the effects of an eruption on stratospheric water vapor and model stratospheric chemistry feedbacks that might delay the conversion of SO2 into sulfate aerosols and prolong the lifetime and radiative forcing of the stratospheric aerosol cloud. To span the uncertainty in the amount of stratospheric injection of SO2, with CCSM3.0 we used 100 times the Pinatubo injection, and with ModelE we used 33, 100, 300, and 900 times the Pinatubo injection without interactive chemistry, and 300 times Pinatubo with interactive chemistry. Starting from a roughly present-day seasonal cycle of insolation, CO2 concentration, and vegetation, or with 6 ka B.P. conditions for CCSM3.0, none of the runs initiates glaciation. The CCSM3.0 run produced a maximum global cooling of 10 K and ModelE runs produced 8–17 K of cooling within the first years of the simulation, depending on the injection, but in all cases, the climate recovers over a few decades. Nevertheless, the “volcanic winter” following a supervolcano eruption of the size of Toba today would have devastating consequences for humanity and global ecosystems. These simulations support the theory that the Toba eruption indeed may have contributed to a genetic bottleneck.