It is estimated that about 5 to 10 volcanoes worldwide are capable of producing a super-eruption that could catastrophically affect global climate. One of these volcanoes hides below the waters of Lake Toba in Sumatra and has caused two super-eruptions in the last million years. But when will the next one be? Will there be any warning signs? To answer these questions, an international team of geologists led from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, and Peking University, China, developed an analysis of the levels of uranium and lead in zircons—a mineral typically found in explosive volcanic eruptions—to determine how long it took the volcano to prepare for its super-eruptions. Unfortunately, these results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, refute the notion that unusual geological signs would herald an imminent super-eruption. Instead, the magma silently accumulated in the magma reservoir until these massive explosions occurred. The Toba volcano in Sumatra caused two of the largest eruptions known on the Earth: the first 840,000 years ago, the second 75,000 years ago, each measuring about 2,800 km3, enough to blanket the whole of Switzerland with 7 cm of ash, and representing 70,000 times the amount of magma erupted thus far by the ongoing La Palma eruption. Two other smaller eruptions took place, one 1.4 million years ago and the other 500,000 years ago.
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