Aerosol size confines climate response to volcanic super-eruptions

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Abstract

[1] Extremely large volcanic eruptions have been linked to global climate change, biotic turnover, and, for the Younger Toba Tuff (YTT) eruption 74,000 years ago, near-extinction of modern humans. One of the largest uncertainties of the climate effects involves evolution and growth of aerosol particles. A huge atmospheric concentration of sulfate causes higher collision rates, larger particle sizes, and rapid fall out, which in turn greatly affects radiative feedbacks. We address this key process by incorporating the effects of aerosol microphysical processes into an Earth System Model. The temperature response is shorter (9–10 years) and three times weaker (−3.5 K at maximum globally) than estimated before, although cooling could still have reached −12 K in some midlatitude continental regions after one year. The smaller response, plus its geographic patchiness, suggests that most biota may have escaped threshold extinction pressures from the eruption.

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