Testing Connections between Campanian Ignimbrite Volcanism, Climate, and the Final Decline of the Neanderthals
Thursday, 18 December 2014
The eruption of the Campanian Ignimbrite 40,000 years ago coincided approximately with the final decline of the Neanderthals and a technological and cultural transition from the Middle to Upper Paleolithic. Two end-member hypotheses have been advanced to explain Neanderthal decline: competition with anatomically modern humans and failure to adapt in the face of environmental stresses. The eruption of the Campanian Ignimbrite has been cited as a potentially major cause of such environmental stress. In this work, we draw on published datasets including ice core records, maps and simulations of ash dispersal, and petrologic measurements to constrain the characteristics of the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption. To investigate the climatic effects of the eruption, we use a three-dimensional sectional aerosol model to simulate the global aerosol cloud after 25 Tg and 100 Tg sulfur release scenarios. We couple these aerosol properties to a comprehensive earth system model under last glacial conditions. We find that summer temperatures were colder for several years after the eruption, with some simulations predicting temperature decreases of up to 10 degrees in Eastern Europe and Asia. While this cold interval may have impacted hominid communities in Siberia, the overall distribution of the cooling we observe in our model is inconsistent with catastrophic collapse of Neanderthal populations in Europe. Nonetheless, the volcanic cooling could have influenced daily life for a generation of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans.