Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
523,
Pages:
543–549
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature14565
Received
Accepted
Published online

Abstract

Volcanic eruptions contribute to climate variability, but quantifying these contributions has been limited by inconsistencies in the timing of atmospheric volcanic aerosol loading determined from ice cores and subsequent cooling from climate proxies such as tree rings. Here we resolve these inconsistencies and show that large eruptions in the tropics and high latitudes were primary drivers of interannual-to-decadal temperature variability in the Northern Hemisphere during the past 2,500 years. Our results are based on new records of atmospheric aerosol loading developed from high-resolution, multi-parameter measurements from an array of Greenland and Antarctic ice cores as well as distinctive age markers to constrain chronologies. Overall, cooling was proportional to the magnitude of volcanic forcing and persisted for up to ten years after some of the largest eruptive episodes. Our revised timescale more firmly implicates volcanic eruptions as catalysts in the major sixth-century pandemics, famines, and socioeconomic disruptions in Eurasia and Mesoamerica while allowing multi-millennium quantification of climate response to volcanic forcing.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Annual 10Be ice-core records and post-volcanic cooling from tree rings under existing ice-core chronologies.
    Figure 1: Annual 10Be ice-core records and post-volcanic cooling from tree rings under existing ice-core chronologies.

    a, Superposed epoch analysis for the largest volcanic signals in NEEM-2011-S1 between 78 and 1000 ce (n = 7; orange trace) and for the largest eruptions between 1250 and 2000 ce (n = 10; grey trace)16. Shown are standardized growth anomalies (z scores relative to 1000–1099 ce) from a multi-centennial, temperature-sensitive tree-ring composite (N-Tree42, 43, 76, 77, 78, Methods) ten years after the year of volcanic sulfate deposition at the NEEM ice core site in Greenland (GICC05 timescale), relative to the level five years before sulfate deposition. b, Annually resolved 10Be concentration records from the WDC, TUNU2013, NGRIP, and NEEM-2011-S1 ice cores on their original timescales and annually resolved Δ14C series from tree-ring records between 755 ce and 795 ce22, 24, with green arrows representing the suggested time shifts for synchronization; error bars are 1σ measurement uncertainties; the estimated relative age uncertainty for TUNU2013 at this depth interval from volcanic synchronization with NEEM-2011-S1 is ±1 year. c, Annually resolved 10Be concentration record from NEEM-2011-S1 ice core on its original timescale and annually resolved Δ14C series from tree rings in 980 ce and 1010 ce23; error bars are 1σ measurement uncertainties.

  2. Re-dated ice-core, non-sea-salt sulfur records from Greenland and Antarctica in relation to growth anomalies in the N-Tree composite.
    Figure 2: Re-dated ice-core, non-sea-salt sulfur records from Greenland and Antarctica in relation to growth anomalies in the N-Tree composite.

    a, Ice-core, non-sea-salt sulfur (nssS in parts per billion, p.p.b.) records from Greenland (NEEM, NEEM-2011-S1) on the NS1-2011 timescale between 500 bce and 1300 ce, with the identified layer of Tianchi tephra67 highlighted (orange star). Calendar years are given for the start of volcanic sulfate deposition. Events used as fixed age markers to constrain the dating (536 ce, 626 ce, 775 ce, 939 ce and 1258 ce) are indicated (purple stars). Annually resolved 10Be concentration record (green) from NEEM-2011-S1 encompassing the two Δ14C excursion events in trees from 775 ce and 994 ce. b, Tree-ring growth anomalies (relative to 1000–1099 ce) for the N-Tree composite42, 43, 76, 77, 78. c, nssS records from Antarctica (red, WDC; pink, B40) on the WD2014 timescale and annually resolved 10Be concentrations from WDC. d, Superposed epoch analysis for 28 large volcanic signals during the past 2,500 years. Tree-ring growth anomalies relative to the timing of reconstructed sulfate deposition in Greenland (NS1-2011) are shown for 1250–2000 ce (black trace) and 500 bce to 1250 ce (green trace).

  3. Global volcanic aerosol forcing and Northern Hemisphere temperature variations for the past 2,500 years.
    Figure 3: Global volcanic aerosol forcing and Northern Hemisphere temperature variations for the past 2,500 years.

    a, 2,500-year record of tree-growth anomalies (N-Tree42, 43, 76, 77, 78; relative to 1000–1099 ce) and reconstructed summer temperature anomalies for Europe and the Arctic3 with the 40 coldest single years and the 12 coldest decades based on N-Tree indicated. b, Reconstructed global volcanic aerosol forcing from bipolar sulfate composite records from tropical (bipolar), Northern Hemisphere, and Southern Hemisphere eruptions. Total (that is, time-integrated) forcing values are calculated by summing the annual values for the duration of volcanic sulfur deposition. The 40 largest volcanic signals are indicated, and ages are given for events representing atmospheric sulfate loading exceeding that of the Tambora 1815 eruption.

  4. Post-volcanic cooling.
    Figure 4: Post-volcanic cooling.

    Superposed composites (time segments from selected periods in the Common Era positioned so that the years with peak negative forcing are aligned) of the JJA (June, July and August) temperature response to the 24 largest eruptions (exceeding the Pinatubo 1991 eruption). ac, For three regional reconstructions in Europe3, 35, 42. df, For the 19 largest tropical eruptions. g, For the five largest Northern Hemisphere eruptions. h, i, For the eruptions with negative forcing larger than that of the Tambora 1815 eruption for Northern Europe (h) and for Central Europe (i). Note the different scale for gi. JJA temperature anomalies (in °C) for 15 years after reconstructed volcanic peak forcing, relative to the five years before the volcanic eruption, are shown. Dashed lines present twice the standard error of the mean (2 s.e.m.) of the temperature anomalies associated with the multiple eruptions. Five-year average post-volcanic temperatures are shown for each reconstruction (lag 0 to lag +4 years, grey shading).

  5. Volcanism and temperature variability during the migration period (500-705 ce).
    Figure 5: Volcanism and temperature variability during the migration period (500–705 ce).

    a, Ice-core non-sea-salt sulphur (nssS) records from Greenland (black trace, NEEM-2011-S1; blue trace, TUNU2013). Calendar years for five large eruptions are given for the start of volcanic sulfate deposition. b, Summer temperature anomalies (orange trace) for Europe3, and reconstructed N-Tree growth anomalies (green trace) and occurrence of frost rings in North American bristlecone pine tree-ring records. c, nssS records from Antarctica (red trace, WDC; pink trace, B40) on the WD2014 timescale; attribution of the sulfur signals to bipolar, Northern Hemisphere, and Southern Hemisphere events based on the timing of deposition on the two independent timescales is indicated by shading.

  6. Location of study sites.
    Extended Data Fig. 1: Location of study sites.

    a, Map showing locations (blue circles) of the five ice cores (WDC, B40, NEEM, NGRIP and TUNU) used in this study. Sites of temperature-limited tree-ring chronologies (green)42, 43, 76, 77, 78 and sites with annual Δ14C measurements from tree-rings in the eighth century ce (red outline) are marked. b, Metadata for the ice cores, tree-ring width (RW), maximum latewood density (MXD) chronologies and temperature reconstructions used3, 12, 16, 17, 25, 35, 42, 43, 76, 77, 78, 82. m water equ. a−1, metres of water equivalent per year.

  7. Volcanic dust veils from historical documentary sources in relation to NEEM.
    Extended Data Fig. 2: Volcanic dust veils from historical documentary sources in relation to NEEM.

    Time series of 32 independently selected chronological validation points from well dated historical observations of atmospheric phenomena with known association to explosive volcanism (for example, diminished sunlight, discoloured solar disk, solar corona or Bishop's Ring, red volcanic sunset) as reported in the Near East, Mediterranean region, and China, before our earliest chronological age marker at 536 ce. Black lines represent the magnitude (scale on y axes) of annual sulfate deposition measured in NEEM (NEEM and NEEM-2011-S1 ice cores) from explosive volcanic events on the new NS1-2011 timescale. Red crosses depict the 24 (75%) historical validation points for which NEEM volcanic events occur within a conservative ±3-year uncertainty margin. Blue crosses represent the eight points for which volcanic events are not observed. The association between validation points and volcanic events is statistically significantly non-random at>99.9% confidence (P < 0.001). ppb, parts per billion.

  8. Timescale comparison.
    Extended Data Fig. 3: Timescale comparison.

    Age differences of the timescales NS1-2011 and GICC05 for the NEEM-2011-S1/NEEM ice cores (a) and WD2014 and WDC06A-7 for WDC (b). Differences before 86 ce (the age of the ice that is now at the bottom of the ice core NEEM-2011-S1) deriving from the annual-layer counting of the NEEM core are shown for major volcanic eruptions relative to the respective signals in NGRIP on the annual-layer counted GICC05 timescale. Marker events used for constraining the annual-layer dating (solid line) and for chronology evaluation (dashed lines) are indicated. Triangles mark volcanic signals. Also indicated is the difference between WD2014 and the Antarctic ice-core chronology (AICC2012)92, based on volcanic synchronization between the WDC and EDC96 ice cores.

  9. Post-volcanic suppression of tree growth.
    Extended Data Fig. 4: Post-volcanic suppression of tree growth.

    Superposed epoch analysis for large volcanic eruptions using the 28 largest volcanic eruptions (a); the 23 largest tropical eruptions (b); the five largest Northern Hemisphere eruptions (c); and eruptions larger than Tambora 1815 with respect to sulfate aerosol loading (d). Shown are growth anomalies of a multi-centennial tree-ring composite record (N-Tree) 15 years after the year of volcanic sulfate deposition, relative to the average of five years before the events. Dashed lines indicate 95% confidence intervals (2 s.e.m.) of the tree-ring growth anomalies associated with the multiple eruptions.

  10. Major-element composition for ice core tephra QUB-1859 and reference material.
    Extended Data Fig. 5: Major-element composition for ice core tephra QUB-1859 and reference material.

    Shown are selected geochemistry data: SiO2 versus total alkali (K2O + Na2O) (a); FeO (total iron oxides) versus TiO2 (b); SiO2 versus Al2O3 (c); and CaO versus MgO (d) from 11 shards extracted from the NEEM-2011-S1 ice core at 327.17–327.25 m depth, representing the age range 536.0–536.4 ce on the new, NS1-2011 timescale. Data for Late Holocene tephra from Mono Craters (California) are from the compilation by ref. 90; data for Aniakchak (Alaska) are from reference material published by ref. 88; and data for the early Holocene upper Finlay tephra, believed to be from the Edziza complex in the Upper Cordilleran Volcanic province (British Columbia), are from ref. 89. (See Supplementary Information for the Upper Finlay tephra.)

Tables

  1. Ice-core dating
    Extended Data Table 1: Ice-core dating
  2. Annual-layer results using the StratiCounter program
    Extended Data Table 2: Annual-layer results using the StratiCounter program
  3. Historical documentary evidence for key volcanic eruption age markers 536-939 ce
    Extended Data Table 3: Historical documentary evidence for key volcanic eruption age markers 536-939 ce
  4. Large volcanic eruptions during the past 2,500 years
    Extended Data Table 4: Large volcanic eruptions during the past 2,500 years
  5. Post-volcanic cooling
    Extended Data Table 5: Post-volcanic cooling

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Author information

  1. Present address: Laboratory of Radiochemistry and Environmental Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institut, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland

    • M. Sigl

Affiliations

  1. Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA

    • M. Sigl,
    • J. R. McConnell,
    • N. Chellman,
    • O. J. Maselli &
    • D. R. Pasteris
  2. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • M. Winstrup
  3. Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • K. C. Welten
  4. School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK

    • G. Plunkett &
    • J. R. Pilcher
  5. Yale Climate and Energy Institute, and Department of History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA

    • F. Ludlow
  6. Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

    • U. Büntgen
  7. Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • U. Büntgen,
    • H. Fischer &
    • S. Schüpbach
  8. Global Change Research Centre AS CR, 60300 Brno, Czech Republic

    • U. Büntgen
  9. Department of Physics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • M. Caffee &
    • T. E. Woodruff
  10. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • M. Caffee
  11. Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

    • D. Dahl-Jensen,
    • J. P. Steffensen &
    • B. M. Vinther
  12. Climate and Environmental Physics, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • H. Fischer &
    • S. Schüpbach
  13. Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany

    • S. Kipfstuhl
  14. Department of History, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

    • C. Kostick
  15. Department of Geology, Quaternary Sciences, Lund University, 22362 Lund, Sweden

    • F. Mekhaldi &
    • R. Muscheler
  16. British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

    • R. Mulvaney
  17. The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • M. Salzer

Contributions

M. Sigl designed the study with input from J.R.M., M.W., G.P., and F.L. The manuscript was written by M. Sigl, M.W., F.L., and J.R.M., with contributions from K.C.W., G.P., U.B., and B.M.V. in interpretation of the measurements. Ice-core chemistry measurements were performed by J.R.M., M. Sigl, O.J.M., N.C., D.R.P. (NEEM, B40, TUNU2013), and by S.S., H.F., R. Mulvaney (NEEM). K.C.W., T.E.W., and M.C. completed ice core 10Be measurements. F.M. and R. Muscheler were responsible for the NGRIP ice core 10Be measurements. M. Sigl, M.W., B.M.V., and J.R.M. analysed ice-core data and developed age models. F.L. and C.K. analysed historical documentary data. G.P. and J.R.P. performed ice-core tephra analysis and data interpretation. U.B. and M. Salzer contributed tree-ring data. D.D.-J., B.M.V., J.P.S., S.K., and O.J.M. were involved in drilling of the NEEM ice core. TUNU2013 was drilled by M. Sigl, N.C. and O.J.M., and the B40 ice core was drilled by S.K. and made available for chemistry measurements. D.D.-J. and J.P.S. were responsible for NEEM project management, sample distribution, logistics support, and management. All authors contributed towards improving the final manuscript.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to:

Author details

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figures

  1. Extended Data Figure 1: Location of study sites. (414 KB)

    a, Map showing locations (blue circles) of the five ice cores (WDC, B40, NEEM, NGRIP and TUNU) used in this study. Sites of temperature-limited tree-ring chronologies (green)42, 43, 76, 77, 78 and sites with annual Δ14C measurements from tree-rings in the eighth century ce (red outline) are marked. b, Metadata for the ice cores, tree-ring width (RW), maximum latewood density (MXD) chronologies and temperature reconstructions used3, 12, 16, 17, 25, 35, 42, 43, 76, 77, 78, 82. m water equ. a−1, metres of water equivalent per year.

  2. Extended Data Figure 2: Volcanic dust veils from historical documentary sources in relation to NEEM. (127 KB)

    Time series of 32 independently selected chronological validation points from well dated historical observations of atmospheric phenomena with known association to explosive volcanism (for example, diminished sunlight, discoloured solar disk, solar corona or Bishop's Ring, red volcanic sunset) as reported in the Near East, Mediterranean region, and China, before our earliest chronological age marker at 536 ce. Black lines represent the magnitude (scale on y axes) of annual sulfate deposition measured in NEEM (NEEM and NEEM-2011-S1 ice cores) from explosive volcanic events on the new NS1-2011 timescale. Red crosses depict the 24 (75%) historical validation points for which NEEM volcanic events occur within a conservative ±3-year uncertainty margin. Blue crosses represent the eight points for which volcanic events are not observed. The association between validation points and volcanic events is statistically significantly non-random at>99.9% confidence (P < 0.001). ppb, parts per billion.

  3. Extended Data Figure 3: Timescale comparison. (412 KB)

    Age differences of the timescales NS1-2011 and GICC05 for the NEEM-2011-S1/NEEM ice cores (a) and WD2014 and WDC06A-7 for WDC (b). Differences before 86 ce (the age of the ice that is now at the bottom of the ice core NEEM-2011-S1) deriving from the annual-layer counting of the NEEM core are shown for major volcanic eruptions relative to the respective signals in NGRIP on the annual-layer counted GICC05 timescale. Marker events used for constraining the annual-layer dating (solid line) and for chronology evaluation (dashed lines) are indicated. Triangles mark volcanic signals. Also indicated is the difference between WD2014 and the Antarctic ice-core chronology (AICC2012)92, based on volcanic synchronization between the WDC and EDC96 ice cores.

  4. Extended Data Figure 4: Post-volcanic suppression of tree growth. (329 KB)

    Superposed epoch analysis for large volcanic eruptions using the 28 largest volcanic eruptions (a); the 23 largest tropical eruptions (b); the five largest Northern Hemisphere eruptions (c); and eruptions larger than Tambora 1815 with respect to sulfate aerosol loading (d). Shown are growth anomalies of a multi-centennial tree-ring composite record (N-Tree) 15 years after the year of volcanic sulfate deposition, relative to the average of five years before the events. Dashed lines indicate 95% confidence intervals (2 s.e.m.) of the tree-ring growth anomalies associated with the multiple eruptions.

  5. Extended Data Figure 5: Major-element composition for ice core tephra QUB-1859 and reference material. (172 KB)

    Shown are selected geochemistry data: SiO2 versus total alkali (K2O + Na2O) (a); FeO (total iron oxides) versus TiO2 (b); SiO2 versus Al2O3 (c); and CaO versus MgO (d) from 11 shards extracted from the NEEM-2011-S1 ice core at 327.17–327.25 m depth, representing the age range 536.0–536.4 ce on the new, NS1-2011 timescale. Data for Late Holocene tephra from Mono Craters (California) are from the compilation by ref. 90; data for Aniakchak (Alaska) are from reference material published by ref. 88; and data for the early Holocene upper Finlay tephra, believed to be from the Edziza complex in the Upper Cordilleran Volcanic province (British Columbia), are from ref. 89. (See Supplementary Information for the Upper Finlay tephra.)

Extended Data Tables

  1. Extended Data Table 1: Ice-core dating (169 KB)
  2. Extended Data Table 2: Annual-layer results using the StratiCounter program (157 KB)
  3. Extended Data Table 3: Historical documentary evidence for key volcanic eruption age markers 536-939 ce (144 KB)
  4. Extended Data Table 4: Large volcanic eruptions during the past 2,500 years (173 KB)
  5. Extended Data Table 5: Post-volcanic cooling (211 KB)

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. Supplementary Information (80 KB)

    This file contains a Supplementary File guide

  2. Supplementary Data 2 (1.3 MB)

    This file contains 3 Supplementary data tables – see guide for details.

Excel files

  1. Supplementary Data 1 (21 KB)

    This file contains ice core meta data and 10Be results – see guide for details.

  2. Supplementary Data 3 (8.7 MB)

    This file contains data from Greenland ice cores– see guide for details.

  3. Supplementary Data 4 (6.6 MB)

    This file contains data from Antarctica ice cores– see guide for details.

  4. Supplementary Data 5 (46 KB)

    This file contains volcanic reconstruction data– see guide for details.

Additional data