Ancient mega eruption destroyed the ozone layer triggering UV stress effects similar to the aftermath of a nuclear war… And it could happen again…


Ozone depletion following the Toba eruption around 74,000 years ago compounded the ensuing volcanic winter and caused a human population bottleneck.

The eruption of Mount Toba in Indonesia is said have been 5,000 times larger than the Mount St Helens eruption in the 1980s and led to the near-extinction of our species. Picture: Stock

A catastrophic drop in atmospheric ozone levels around the tropics is likely to have contributed to a bottleneck in the human population around 60 to 100,000 years ago, an international research team has suggested. The ozone loss, triggered by the eruption of the Toba supervolcano located in present-day Indonesia, might solve an evolutionary puzzle that scientists have been debating for decades.

Toba has long been posited as a cause of the bottleneck, but initial investigations into the climate variables of temperature and precipitation provided no concrete evidence of a devastating effect on humankind,said the main investigator.

We point out that, in the tropics, near-surface ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the driving evolutionary factor. Climate becomes more relevant in the more volatile regions away from the tropics,” says Stenchikov.

comparison of mega eruption which was the most powerfull eruption in history
Comparison of magma released during the largest eruptions in geological history. Picture via USGS

Volcanic cloud and cooling of Earth’s surface

Large volcanic eruptions emit gases and ash that create a sunlight-attenuating aerosol layer in the stratosphere, causing cooling at the Earth’s surface. This “volcanic winter” has multiple knock-on effects, such as cooler oceans, prolonged El Niño events, crop failures and disease.

The Toba SO2 cloud depleted global ozone levels by as much as 50 percent.

The ozone layer prevents high levels of harmful UV radiation reaching the surface,” says Osipov. “To generate ozone from oxygen in the atmosphere, photons are needed to break the O2 bond. When a volcano releases vast amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2), the resulting volcanic plume absorbs UV radiation but blocks sunlight. This limits ozone formation, creating an ozone hole and heightening the chances of UV stress.

A video comparing the last full scale eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano VS the last super-eruption of the Toba Supervolcano. Which one was bigger?

Investigating UV radiation levels and results

The team examined UV radiation levels after the Toba eruption using the ModelE climate model developed by NASA GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies).

They simulated the possible after-effects of different sizes of eruptions. Running such a model is computationally intensive, and Osipov is grateful for the use of KAUST’s supercomputer, Shaheen II, and associated expertise.

  • Their model suggests that the Toba SO2 cloud depleted global ozone levels by as much as 50 percent.
  • Furthermore, they found that the effects on ozone are significant, even under relatively small eruption scenarios.
  • The resulting health hazards from higher UV radiation at the surface would have significantly affected human survival rates.

The UV stress effects could be similar to the aftermath of a nuclear war,” says Osipov. “For example, crop yields and marine productivity would drop due to UV sterilization effects. Going outside without UV protection would cause eye damage and sunburn in less than 15 minutes. Over time, skin cancers and general DNA damage would have led to population decline.” [Nature, KAUST]

So, yes, if not prepared, you are doomed! Have your plan ready to face any disasters and emergency ahead. Protect your water and get some great dry food!

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  1. Sounds just like the theory taught in my school that a giant meteor came crashing to earth and killed all of the dinosaurs. It seemed incredulous as a kid and it does now, too.

  2. Well, we started building an underground shooting range, that can double as a bunker fallout shelter. So far, its 6′ deep, 8′ wide, and 180′ long.

    I finally found a backhoe guy up here, that wasn’t a dick. Did a full 8 hours. Most of the younger guys fizzle out in 4-6 hours out here.

    Got a huge 8′ high berm for the upper deck part of the range too, since it’s a split level. Combat pistol below, and target shooting up above. Horseshoe shaped berm.

    Anyways, we’re going deeper, and we’re making railrood ties for stairs. Then some extra touches, like a heavy duty roof.

    At least if you try and prepare, you keep busy, and exercise is healthy to stay strong and fit. I can hardly wait to do my old shooting drills too. Be able to freewheel underground, and do some fun stuff.

    Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Stay sharp. Always pray, and count your blessings, and thank God Almighty too. He likes that.

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