Astronomically calibrated 40Ar/39Ar age for the Toba supereruption and global synchronization of late Quaternary records
The Toba supereruption in Sumatra, ∼74 thousand years (ka) ago, was the largest terrestrial volcanic event of the Quaternary. Ash and sulfate aerosols were deposited in both hemispheres, forming a time-marker horizon that can be used to synchronize late Quaternary records globally. A precise numerical age for this event has proved elusive, with dating uncertainties larger than the millennial-scale climate cycles that characterized this period. We report an astronomically calibrated (40)Ar/(39)Ar age of 73.88 ± 0.32 ka (1σ, full external errors) for sanidine crystals extracted from Toba deposits in the Lenggong Valley, Malaysia, 350 km from the eruption source and 6 km from an archaeological site with stone artifacts buried by ash. If these artifacts were made by Homo sapiens, as has been suggested, then our age indicates that modern humans had reached Southeast Asia by ∼74 ka ago. Our (40)Ar/(39)Ar age is an order-of-magnitude more precise than previous estimates, resolving the timing of the eruption to the middle of the cold interval between Dansgaard-Oeschger events 20 and 19, when a peak in sulfate concentration occurred as registered by Greenland ice cores. This peak is followed by a ∼10 °C drop in the Greenland surface temperature over ∼150 y, revealing the possible climatic impact of the eruption. Our (40)Ar/(39)Ar age also provides a high-precision calibration point for other ice, marine, and terrestrial archives containing Toba sulfates and ash, facilitating their global synchronization at unprecedented resolution for a critical period in Earth and human history beyond the range of (14)C dating.
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