Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Quantifying gas emissions from the “Millennium Eruption” of Paektu volcano, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea/China

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Science Advances  30 Nov 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 11, e1600913
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600913

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Paektu volcano (Changbaishan) is a rhyolitic caldera that straddles the border between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China. Its most recent large eruption was the Millennium Eruption (ME; 23 km3 dense rock equivalent) circa 946 CE, which resulted in the release of copious magmatic volatiles (H2O, CO2, sulfur, and halogens). Accurate quantification of volatile yield and composition is critical in assessing volcanogenic climate impacts but is challenging, particularly for events before the satellite era. We use a geochemical technique to quantify volatile composition and upper bounds to yields for the ME by examining trends in incompatible trace and volatile element concentrations in crystal-hosted melt inclusions. We estimate that the ME could have emitted as much as 45 Tg of S to the atmosphere. This is greater than the quantity of S released by the 1815 eruption of Tambora, which contributed to the “year without a summer.” Our maximum gas yield estimates place the ME among the strongest emitters of climate-forcing gases in the Common Era. However, ice cores from Greenland record only a relatively weak sulfate signal attributed to the ME. We suggest that other factors came into play in minimizing the glaciochemical signature. This paradoxical case in which high S emissions do not result in a strong glacial sulfate signal may present a way forward in building more generalized models for interpreting which volcanic eruptions have produced large climate impacts.

  • Volcanic gas emissions
  • volatiles
  • Paektu
  • Millennium Eruption
  • melt inclusions

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