Su­per­vol­cano erup­tions may not be as dev­as­tat­ing as pre­vi­ously thought

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

Su­per­vol­cano erup­tions are cat­a­clysmic events that change the shape of Earth’s his­tory. New ev­i­dence now shows that these world-chang­ing erup­tions may not be com­pletely de­struc­tive. Hu­mans are still able to sur­vive while feel­ing the ef­fects of those erup­tions.

Hu­man­ity was able to pull through one of the largest erup­tions in the world, ac­cord­ing to a new study in Na­ture. Not only were peo­ple able to pull through this rough pe­riod in hu­man his­tory, but they were also able to thrive in an un­likely time. Af­ter the Toba su­per­vol­canic erup­tion 74,000 years ago, one group was able to sur­vive de­spite the cat­a­clysm that had just oc­curred.

A re­search team from Ari­zona State Univer­sity found that a hu­man pop­u­la­tion in South Africa was able to thrive in the time af­ter the erup­tion. Re­searchers sifted through soil sam­ples of two dif­fer­ent ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in Vlees­baai and Pin­na­cle Point, South Africa.

Look­ing for hid­den ash

Sci­en­tists were look­ing for ex­am­ples of cryp­totephra, which means hid­den ash. Toba’s su­per­vol­canic erup­tion sent glassy prod­ucts through­out Earth. These pieces of glass have a very spe­cific look that could be iden­ti­fied un­der a mi­cro­scope. They have a hook-like shape that is dis­tinc­tive and can be traced back to the Toba erup­tion.

This spe­cific pop­u­la­tion was able to live their lives with­out be­ing dis­turbed. Re­searchers saw ev­i­dence that the erup­tion had no im­pact on the daily lives of the hu­mans that were liv­ing in South Africa.

Sci­en­tists spec­u­late that what helped peo­ple in these set­tle­ments sur­vive was the dif­fer­ence in their diet. Be­ing close to the sea, shell­fish may be a bet­ter food source than land an­i­mals that may have been dis­rupted by the erup­tion.

Largest erup­tion

Lake Toba’s su­per­vol­canic erup­tion is the largest erup­tion of the last 2 mil­lion years. It plunged Earth into a nu­clear win­ter 74,000 years ago. Over 2,800 cu­bic kilo­me­ters of de­bris was kicked up into the at­mos­phere, cre­at­ing a huge ash plume that spread from In­dia, Pak­istan, and the Gulf. This cov­ered the re­gion in a blan­ket 3 to 15 feet deep.

Be­fore this re­cent dis­cov­ery, not much was known about how the erup­tion af­fected life through­out the world. Ge­o­logic ev­i­dence of the erup­tion could be found but not the ef­fect it had on hu­man life.

There may have been hu­mans there to wit­ness the erup­tion, but it is un­likely that those who saw the erup­tion hap­pen be­fore their eyes were able to sur­vive.

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