CHAMPAIGN, Ill. A new study provides "incontrovertible evidence" that the volcanic super-eruption of Toba on the island of Sumatra about 73,000 years ago deforested much of central India, some 3,000 miles from the epicenter, researchers report.
The volcano ejected an estimated 800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, leaving a crater (now the world's largest volcanic lake) that is 100 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. Ash from the event has been found in India, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea.
The bright ash reflected sunlight off the landscape, and volcanic sulfur aerosols impeded solar radiation for six years, initiating an "Instant Ice Age" that according to evidence in ice cores taken in Greenland lasted about 1,800 years.
During this instant ice age, temperatures dropped by as much as 16 degrees centigrade (28 degrees Fahrenheit), said University of Illinois anthropology professor Stanley Ambrose, a principal investigator on the new study with professor Martin A.J. Williams, of the University of Adelaide. Williams, who discovered a layer of Toba ash in central India in 1980, led the research.
The climactic effects of Toba have been a source of controversy for years, as is its impact on human populations.
In 1998, Ambrose proposed in the Journal of Human Evolution that the effects of the Toba eruption and the Ice Age that followed could explain the apparent bottleneck in human populations that geneticists believe occurred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. The lack of genetic diversity among humans alive today suggests that during this time period humans came very close to becoming extinct.
To address the limited evidence of the terrestrial effects of Toba, Ambrose and his colleagues pursued two lines of research: They analyzed pollen from a marine core in the Bay of Bengal that included a layer of ash from the Toba eruption, and they looked at carbon iso
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign