Possible Intercontinental Dispersal of Microorganisms from a Paleolake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Craig A Chesner, Eastern Illinois University, Geology/Geography, Charleston, IL, United States and Olivia A Barbee, Northern Arizona University, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
Geochemical fingerprinting of glass shards and minerals have clearly demonstrated that ash from the 74 ka Toba eruption was distributed over a vast area including parts of the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Indian sub-continent, and eastern Africa. The great dispersal has been attributed to eruption column height, co-ignimbrite ash, shard morphology, and volume of the Youngest Toba Tuff (YTT) eruption. New evidence suggests that another contributing factor may have been a phreatomagmatic component of the eruption whereby portions of the YTT interacted with a paleolake Toba during the eruption. This evidence consists of an accretionary lapilli ash fall bed at the base of the YTT, friable lake sediment lithic fragments found within the proximal YTT ignimbrite, and organic remains in distal ash exposures. Notably, diatom frustules and sponge spicules similar to those that occur in post-YTT lacustrine sediments at Toba have now been identified in the proximal YTT ash fall bed and ignimbrite, as well as distal ash exposures in Malaysia and India. Our findings support the observations of J.B.Scrivenor (1930, 1943) who first described such microfossil occurrences in the Toba ash from sites in Malaysia, and speculated that they may have originated from Toba. Species characterization is currently underway to determine if the microflora/faunal assemblages of the Malaysian and Indian ashes are consistent with a Toba source. The preliminary results of our study lends further credence to Van Eaton et al.’s (2013) suggestion that microbiological cargo carried by phreatomagmatic tephra can provide a new tool in deciphering volcanological, paleoenvironmental, and biologic dispersal models.