Tag: Types of volcanic eruptions


An unbroken record for two million years!

I came across this previously unknown, well to me, volcanic eruption during my research on my Vesuvius article for last week.  In that article I mentioned that I would discuss this truly giant eruption at a later date.

If your general knowledge is sufficiently good to know exactly what I am referring to, both in the title, Toba, and the sub-heading, then well done!  So to those that do know about the Toba volcanic eruption, my apologies.  To all you others, read on.

The Toba volcano produced the largest known volcanic eruption on earth during the past 2 million years.

Here’s an extract from the website Articles Extra,

Toba almost wiped out mankind 73,000 years ago. Back then Neanderthal man inhabited our Earth alongside Homo sapiens in Europe, Homo erectus and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis in Asia. It was cold in Europe, the last ice age was in full swing and reindeer, wild horses and giant stag were hunted in our breadths. Alongside the herbivorous nourishment, mammouth and woolly rhinos were occasionally on the menu for humans when Toba, with a diameter of 90 kilometres on the island known today as Sumatra, in the truest sense of the word, “blew up”.

A volcanic eruption with a diameter of 90 kilometres!  Ouch!  Back to the article,

Alongside gigantic Tsunami waves, there was the unimaginable amount of 2800 cubic kilometres of ejected ash, which, evenly spread throughout our planet’s atmosphere, should have reduced the total number of humans to just 5000 to 10,000 survivors, as the Australian vulcanologist Prof. Ray Cas explains in an interview: “The suns rays only weakly reached the ground all around the globe, plants received too little light, the average temperature dropped to 5 degrees, so that summer turned to winter and winter became deadly in Verbindung.”

Two thousand, eight hundred cubic kilometres of ejected ash!  It’s practically impossible to get one’s mind around that figure.  OK, it’s easy enough to look up the volume of just one cubic kilometre – it’s 1,000,000,000 m3 or a trillion litres!  Or for those of you in old money, as 1 US Gallon is the equivalent of 3.785 litres, then a trillion litres is 264,200,792,602 US gallons!   Approximately 264 billion US gallons!   264 billion US gallons which, in case you missed it, is just one cubic kilometre.  Toba ejected 2,800 times that amount in ash!

Back to the article,

Today we know that humans and their near relatives survived this global Armageddon of nature in small groups, mainly in Africa. It is incredible how scientists found all of that out with the help of thousands of DNA studies of today’s humans. Mag. Bence Viola from the Anthropological Institute of Vienna University: “We examined the DNA in human mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, and thereby observed that the genetic composition in samples from humans from all over the world had to have been much more different if Homo sapiens were able to have developed in all parts of the Earth without problems.”

Actually today’s humans originate from a few thousand survivors and we can attribute the cause to the eruption of the super volcano Toba around 73,000 years ago. So it is a sort of genetic bottleneck, through which not only Homo sapiens had to have been forced, but also all of his relatives that were still living at that time but who died out later on due to other reasons.

Therefore a volcano in the region of Indonesia was responsible for the near destruction of mankind. From the 60 to 70 volcanoes that are to be found in the area today, a remarkable number have become active again in the weeks and months after the seaquake in December. Yet Toba is dozing today deep and safe under a huge sea bearing the same name in Northern Sumatra. Many people fear that if the suddenly active volcano of Talang that lies 300 kilometres south erupts, it could awaken the deadly giant.

Vulcanologist Prof. Ray Cas

Vulcanologist Prof. Ray Cas: “That could actually happen, but only if Toba were ready to erupt and at the moment there is not the slightest indication of that.” The expert does think that it is probable that one day another huge eruption will take place: “But that can only happen in 10,000 or even 100,000 years. The Earth is despite all efforts not predictable.”

It remains furthermore open to know what would happen to us in the face of such a devastating natural disaster, if a volcanic eruption similar to Toba were imminent. The way things stand today we cannot do anything against it.

Let’s close this reflection on a truly earth-changing event by looking at a picture of Toba today,

The Toba volcanic caldera as of today.

Mount Vesuvius

One thousand, nine hundred and thirty-two years ago, today, there was a loud bang in Italy!

On the 24th August, in the year 79 A.D. the residents of Pompeii would undoubtedly had very little time to ponder on the consequences of a volcanic eruption just five miles away.

Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii.

Indeed, as the website Classroom of the Future explains,

Try to imagine huge, billowing, gray-black clouds like those at Mount St. Helens rushing toward you at a hundred miles an hour. That is probably what the ancient Romans saw just before they were entombed by hot ash.

There is much material available for those that wish to read more about the devastating effects of that volcanic eruption, so superfluous to add much more here.  The Classroom of the Future link is as good a place to start as any.  What I would like to comment on is this – but first a picture,

Vesuvius and nearby cities

What is worth noting that in 2009 the CIA Factbook records that the population of Naples was 2,270,000 people.  Naples is very close to Vesuvius.  As WikiPedia puts it,

Mount Vesuvius (ItalianMonte VesuvioLatinMons Vesuvius) is a stratovolcano on the Bay of NaplesItaly, about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) east ofNaples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting.

Here’s another reference,

There is a saying in Italy that goes ‘vedi Napoli e poi muori’. Translated, this means ‘see Naples and die’. The actual meaning of this refers to being overwhelmed by what a beautiful and an incredible city Naples is. (although some may argue that what it really means that Naples is such a dangerous and chaotic city that it will kill you!)

H’mmm. Get the timing wrong and that saying could have a literal meaning way beyond the ancient author’s intent!  I quote from the website Geology.com,

Starting in 1631, Vesuvius entered a period of steady volcanic activity, including lava flows and eruptions of ash and mud. Violent eruptions in the late 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s created more fissures, lava flows, and ash-and-gas explosions. These damaged or destroyed many towns around the volcano, and sometimes killed people; the eruption of 1906 had more than 100 casualties. The most recent eruption was in 1944 during World War II. It caused major problems for the newly-arrived Allied forces in Italy when ash and rocks from the eruption destroyed planes and forced evacuations at a nearby airbase.

But for all it’s power, the Vesuvius eruption of the 24th August, 79 was a squib compared to the Toba eruption some 73,000 years ago. More on that one in a few days perhaps.