The magnitude and impact of the 431 CE Tierra Blanca Joven eruption of Ilopango, El Salvador

Victoria C. Smith, Antonio Costa, Gerardo Aguirre-Díaz, Dario Pedrazzi, Andrea Scifo, Gill Plunkett, Mattieu Poret, Pierre Yves Tournigand, Dan Miles, Michael W. Dee, Joseph R. McConnell, Ivan Sunyé-Puchol, Pablo Dávila Harris, Michael Sigl, Jonathan R. Pilcher, Nathan Chellman, Eduardo Gutiérrez

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33 Citations (Scopus)
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The Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) eruption from Ilopango volcano deposited thick ash over much of El Salvador when it was inhabited by the Maya, and rendered all areas within at least 80 km of the volcano uninhabitable for years to decades after the eruption. Nonetheless, the more widespread environmental and climatic impacts of this large eruption are not well known because the eruption magnitude and date are not well constrained. In this multifaceted study we have resolved the date of the eruption to 431 ± 2 CE by identifying the ash layer in a well-dated, high-resolution Greenland ice-core record that is >7,000 km from Ilopango; and calculated that between 37 and 82 km3 of magma was dispersed from an eruption coignimbrite column that rose to ∼45 km by modeling the deposit thickness using state-of-the-art tephra dispersal methods. Sulfate records from an array of ice cores suggest stratospheric injection of 14 ± 2 Tg S associated with the TBJ eruption, exceeding those of the historic eruption of Pinatubo in 1991. Based on these estimates it is likely that the TBJ eruption produced a cooling of around 0.5 °C for a few years after the eruption. The modeled dispersal and higher sulfate concentrations recorded in Antarctic ice cores imply that the cooling would have been more pronounced in the Southern Hemisphere. The new date confirms the eruption occurred within the Early Classic phase when Maya expanded across Central America.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26061-26068
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
Early online date28 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


  • Eruption dispersal
  • Large volcanic eruptions
  • Maya
  • Radiocarbon
  • Sulfate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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