Okay, okay, so it didn’t melt Santa’s workshop. Don’t worry, kids, he’s safe. But 74,000 years ago, a volcanic eruption on Sumatra Island that was 5,000 times larger than the Mount St. Helens blast in 1980 caused acid to rain on both the north and south poles!
As for the supervolcano’s lava, there was enough spewed forth to create two Mount Everests—yes, two.
For years, scientists have debated whether the massive amount of ash and gas that this eruption sent shooting into the atmosphere was responsible for cooling the planet, sending sulphuric acid raining on the poles, and causing severe devastation for early mankind—not to mention whether those effects have lasted.
Previous studies have suggested that the Toba volcano caused a 1000-year ice age, with only ten thousand humans surviving… while another study located evidence that suggested humans were having a lovely time living and thriving in India not long after the eruption. Which one is correct?
Turns out a new study that looked at ice cores from acid rain-tainted areas in Greenland and Antarctica suggests that despite the magnitude of the blast, it might not have been so bad after all. The Antarctic core actually shows traces of a warming event not long after the supervolcano’s eruption, happening around the same time as a cooling signal that was found in the Greenland cores.
What does this mean? “That means there’s no long-term global cooling caused by the eruption. There may have been a shorter [global] cooling of a duration of maybe 10 or 20 years, like we see for more recent volcanoes,” said Anders Svensson, co-author of the new study on the Toba eruption. Considering that these more recent volcanoes are not nearly as powerful as what happened to Sumatra’s Toba, this is significant.
Toba didn’t cause long-term cooling, and it seems that humans thrived on, regardless of the circumstances caused by the eruption—which is remarkable, because the volcano’s fallout is thought to have had environmental impact as far away as India!
While scientists are still learning more about what happened during and after the eruption through ongoing analysis of the ice core data, you can read more from the Toba volcano study in the journal Climate of the Past.