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  1. Abstract

    Volcanic super-eruptions have been theorized to cause severe global cooling, with the 74 kya Toba eruption purported to have driven humanity to near-extinction. However, this eruption left little physical evidence of its severity and models diverge greatly on the magnitude of post-eruption cooling. A key factor controlling the super-eruption climate response is the size of volcanic sulfate aerosol, a quantity that left no physical record and is poorly constrained by models. Here we show that this knowledge gap severely limits confidence in model-based estimates of super-volcanic cooling, and accounts for much of the disagreement among prior studies. By simulating super-eruptions over a range of aerosol sizes, we obtain global mean responses varying from extreme cooling all the way to the previously unexplored scenario of widespread warming. We also use an interactive aerosol model to evaluate the scaling between injected sulfur mass and aerosol size. Combining our model results with the available paleoclimate constraints applicable to large eruptions, we estimate that global volcanic cooling is unlikely to exceed 1.5°C no matter how massive the stratospheric injection. Super-eruptions, we conclude, may be incapable of altering global temperatures substantially more than the largest Common Era eruptions. This lack of exceptional cooling could explain why no single super-eruption event has resulted in firm evidence of widespread catastrophe for humans or ecosystems.

    Significance Statement

    Whether volcanic super-eruptions pose a threat to humanity remains a subject of debate, with climate models disagreeing on the magnitude of global post-eruption cooling. We demonstrate that this disagreement primarily stems from a lack of constraint on the size of volcanic sulfate aerosol particles. By evaluating the range of aerosol size scenarios, we demonstrate that eruptions may be incapable of causing more than 1.5°C cooling no matter how much sulfur they inject into the stratosphere. This could explain why archaeological records provide no evidence of increased human mortality following the Toba super-eruption. Further, we raise the unexplored possibility that the largest super-eruptions could cause global-scale warming.

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  2. Spatial and temporal trends of remotely sensed sea-ice cover, sea surface temperatures, chlorophyll-a concentration and primary production in the Baffin Bay, Davis Strait and Labrador Sea were analyzed for the 1998–2017 period. We found spatial variability in the trends of these cryospheric, biologic and oceanographic phenomena. For example, in the northern Baffin Bay, we observed decreases in annual sea-ice persistence, yet increases along the Labrador Sea-ice edge during winter, with the latter having significant correlations with broader atmospheric patterns. In general, we observed increases in summer sea surface temperatures across the study region, except a small area of cooling along the southern Greenlandic coast. We also found significant negative trends in April chlorophyll-a and primary production followed by significant positive trends for both biological phenomena in May, owing to anomalously high values in 2014 and 2015. Notably, we found a significant positive correlation between days of monthly sea ice presence in April with May primary production quantities. Finally, we found a significant positive trend in total annual primary production over the study period. This novel finding suggests an important relationship between the timing of breakup along the sea-ice edge and peaks in biological production. 
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