Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Estimates of volcanic-induced cooling in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,500 years


Explosive volcanism can alter global climate, and hence trigger economic, political and demographic change1,2. The climatic impact of the largest volcanic events has been assessed in numerous modelling studies and tree-ring-based hemispheric temperature reconstructions3,4,5,6. However, volcanic surface cooling derived from climate model simulations is systematically much stronger than the cooling seen in tree-ring-based proxies, suggesting that the proxies underestimate cooling7,8; and/or the modelled forcing is unrealistically high9. Here, we present summer temperature reconstructions for the Northern Hemisphere from tree-ring width and maximum latewood density over the past 1,500 years. We also simulate the climate effects of two large eruptions, in AD 1257 and 1815, using a climate model that accounts explicitly for self-limiting aerosol microphysical processes3,10. Our tree-ring reconstructions show greater cooling than reconstructions with lower spatial coverage and based on tree-ring width alone, whereas our simulations show less cooling than previous simulations relying on poorly constrained eruption seasons and excluding nonlinear aerosol microphysics. Our tree-ring reconstructions and climate simulations are in agreement, with a mean Northern Hemisphere extra-tropical summer cooling over land of 0.8 to 1.3 °C for these eruptions. This reconciliation of proxy and model evidence paves the way to improved assessment of the role of both past and future volcanism in climate forcing.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: New tree-ring reconstructions of NH extra-tropical land (40°–90° N) summer temperature anomalies (with respect to 1961–1990) since AD 500.
Figure 2: Summer cooling following Samalas and Tambora eruptions.


  1. Oppenheimer, C. Eruptions that Shook the World (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. Sigl, M. et al. Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years. Nature 523, 543–549 (2015)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Timmreck, C. et al. Limited temperature response to the very large AD 1258 volcanic eruption. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L21708 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Briffa, K. R., Jones, P. D., Schweingruber, F. H. & Osborn, T. J. Influence of volcanic eruptions on Northern Hemisphere summer temperature over the past 600 years. Nature 393, 450–455 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. D’Arrigo, R., Wilson, R. & Jacoby, G. On the long-term context for late twentieth century warming. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D03103 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Anchukaitis, K. J. et al. Tree rings and volcanic cooling. Nature Geosci. 5, 836–837 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Büntgen, U. et al. Extraterrestrial confirmation of tree-ring dating. Nature Clim. Change 4, 404–405 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Mann, M. E., Fuentes, J. D. & Rutherford, S. Underestimation of volcanic cooling in tree-ring-based reconstructions of hemispheric temperatures. Nature Geosci. 5, 202–205 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Marotzke, J. & Forster, P. M. Forcing, feedback and internal variability in global temperature trends. Nature 517, 565–570 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Pinto, J. P., Turco, R. P. & Toon, O. B. Self-limiting physical and chemical effects in volcanic eruption clouds. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 11174 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Lavigne, F. et al. Source of the great A.D. 1257 mystery eruption unveiled, Samalas volcano, Rinjani Volcanic Complex, Indonesia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 16742–16747 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Oppenheimer, C. Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815. Prog. Phys. Geogr. 27, 230–259 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Luterbacher, J. & Pfister, C. The year without a summer. Nature Geosci. 8, 246–248 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. D’Arrigo, R., Wilson, R. & Anchukaitis, K. J. Volcanic cooling signal in tree ring temperature records for the past millennium. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 9000–9010 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Rohde, R., Muller, R. A., Jacobsen, R., Muller, E. & Wickham, C. A new estimate of the average earth surface land temperature spanning 1753 to 2011. Geoinform. Geostat. Overv. 01, 1000101 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Jones, P. D. et al. Hemispheric and large-scale land-surface air temperature variations: An extensive revision and an update to 2010. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D05127 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Esper, J. Low-frequency signals in long tree-ring chronologies for reconstructing past temperature variability. Science 295, 2250–2253 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Esper, J. et al. European summer temperature response to annually dated volcanic eruptions over the past nine centuries. Bull. Volcanol. 75, 736 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Schneider, L. et al. Revising midlatitude summer temperatures back to A.D. 600 based on a wood density network: Revising hemispheric temperature history. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 4556–4562 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Gao, C., Robock, A. & Ammann, C. Volcanic forcing of climate over the past 1500 years: An improved ice core-based index for climate models. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D23111 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Crowley, T. J. & Unterman, M. B. Technical details concerning development of a 1200 yr proxy index for global volcanism. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 5, 187–197 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Schmidt, G. A. et al. Climate forcing reconstructions for use in PMIP simulations of the last millennium (v1.0). Geosci. Model Dev. 4, 33–45 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dufresne, J.-L. et al. Climate change projections using the IPSL-CM5 Earth System Model: From CMIP3 to CMIP5. Clim. Dynam. 40, 2123–2165 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Bekki, S. et al. Coupled aerosol-chemical modeling of UARS HNO3 and N2O5 measurements in the Arctic upper stratosphere. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 8977–8984 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kravitz, B. & Robock, A. Climate effects of high-latitude volcanic eruptions: Role of the time of year. J. Geophys. Res. 116, D01105 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Toohey, M., Krüger, K., Niemeier, U. & Timmreck, C. The influence of eruption season on the global aerosol evolution and radiative impact of tropical volcanic eruptions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 11, 12351–12367 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Aquila, V., Oman, L. D., Stolarski, R. S., Colarco, P. R. & Newman, P. A. Dispersion of the volcanic sulfate cloud from a Mount Pinatubo-like eruption. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D06216 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gao, C., Oman, L., Robock, A. & Stenchikov, G. L. Atmospheric volcanic loading derived from bipolar ice cores: Accounting for the spatial distribution of volcanic deposition. J. Geophys. Res. 112, D09109 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Self, S., Gertisser, R., Thordarson, T., Rampino, M. R. & Wolff, J. A. Magma volume, volatile emissions, and stratospheric aerosols from the 1815 eruption of Tambora. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L20608 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Read, W. G., Froidevaux, L. & Waters, J. W. Microwave limb sounder measurement of stratospheric SO2 from the Mt. Pinatubo Volcano. Geophys. Res. Lett. 20, 1299–1302 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Stothers, R. B. Climatic and Demographic Consequences of the Massive Volcanic Eruption of 1258. Climatic Change 45, 361–374 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Nicault, A., Guiot, J., Edouard, J. L. & Brewer, S. Preserving long-term fluctuations in standardisation of tree-ring series by the adaptative regional growth curve (ARGC). Dendrochronologia 28, 1–12 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Melvin, T. & Briffa, K. A ‘signal-free’ approach to dendroclimatic standardisation. Dendrochronologia 26, 71–86 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Cook, E. R. Long-term aridity changes in the western United States. Science 306, 1015–1018 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Osborn, T., Briffa, K. R. & Jones, P. D. Adjusting variance for sample-size in tree-ring chronologies and other regional-mean time-series. Dendrochronologia 15, 89–99 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


O. Churakova (Sidorova), J.-L. Edouard, R. Hantemirov and Y. Zhang contributed millennium-long chronologies. V.P. was supported by a grant from the LABEX L-IPSL, funded by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche under the ‘Programme d’Investissements d’Avenir’ (Grant no. ANR-10-LABX-18-01) and benefited from the IPSL CMIP data access PRODIGUER. S.B. was supported by the EU-FP7 StratoClim project (grant agreement 603557).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.S., M.K., C.C. and S.G. designed the study with input from V.P., S.B., J.G., B.H.L., C.O., M.B. and V.M.-D. S.G. and C.C. performed climate reconstructions; M.K., S.B., V.P. and N.L. compiled ice-core data for SO2 yields estimation, designed the experiments and ran the microphysical and GCM models. All authors contributed to discussion and writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Markus Stoffel.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 3890 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Stoffel, M., Khodri, M., Corona, C. et al. Estimates of volcanic-induced cooling in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,500 years. Nature Geosci 8, 784–788 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing