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Climate response to the Toba super-eruption: regional changes

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  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Climatic consequences of the Young Toba Tuff (YTT) eruption about 73 ka are a crucial argument in the current discussion about the fate of modern humans, especially in Africa and Asia. Earth system model (ESM) simulations of the YTT eruption are used to investigate its regional climate impacts, in particular focusing on areas relevant to human evolutionary issues during that time. Uncertainties concerning the stratospheric sulphur emission for the YTT eruption are addressed by comparing ESM simulations of a 100 times Pinatubo-like eruption as an upper and a 3 times Pinatubo-like (Tambora) eruption as a lower estimate. Information about transient changes in vegetation types after the YTT eruption are obtained by forcing an offline dynamical global vegetation model with the climate anomalies simulated by the ESM under both glacial and interglacial background climate conditions. The simulated temperature changes in those areas that were inhabited by humans suggest thermal discomfort, but not a real challenge for survival. Precipitation is reduced in all regions during the first two years but recovers quickly thereafter. Some catchments in these regions (Ganges/Brahmaputra, Nile), experience an over-compensation in precipitation during the third to fifth post-eruption years which is also reflected in anomalously strong river runoffs. Change in vegetation composition may have created the biggest pressure on humans, who had to adapt to more open space with fewer trees and more grasses for some decades especially in the African regions. The strongest environmental impacts of the YTT eruption are simulated under interglacial background conditions suggesting that the climate effects of the YTT eruption did not impact humans on a major scale and for a period long enough to have dramatic consequences for their survival.

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