The Toba supervolcano eruption caused severe tropical stratospheric ozone depletion

Sergey Osipov, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Kostas Tsigaridis, Allegra N. LeGrande, Susanne E. Bauer, Mohammed Fnais, Jos Lelieveld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


AbstractSupervolcano eruptions have occurred throughout Earth’s history and have major environmental impacts. These impacts are mostly associated with the attenuation of visible sunlight by stratospheric sulfate aerosols, which causes cooling and deceleration of the water cycle. Supereruptions have been assumed to cause so-called volcanic winters that act as primary evolutionary factors through ecosystem disruption and famine, however, winter conditions alone may not be sufficient to cause such disruption. Here we use Earth system model simulations to show that stratospheric sulfur emissions from the Toba supereruption 74,000 years ago caused severe stratospheric ozone loss through a radiation attenuation mechanism that only moderately depends on the emission magnitude. The Toba plume strongly inhibited oxygen photolysis, suppressing ozone formation in the tropics, where exceptionally depleted ozone conditions persisted for over a year. This effect, when combined with volcanic winter in the extra-tropics, can account for the impacts of supereruptions on ecosystems and humanity.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCommunications Earth & Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 12 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-06-23
Acknowledgements: We thank Albrecht W. Hofmann for his help with the interpretation of melt inclusion data. The research was supported by funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), NASA ACMAP (Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program) Contract NNX15AE36G, and International Scientific Partnership Program (ISPP) of the King Saud University.


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