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Lake Toba

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Lake Toba

Lake Toba
Location North Sumatra, Indonesia
Type Volcanic/ tectonic
Primary outflows Asahan River
Basin countries Indonesia
Max. length 100 km (62 mi)
Max. width 30 km (19 mi)
Surface area 1,130 km2 (440 sq mi)
Average depth 500 metres
Max. depth 505 m (1,657 ft)[1]
Water volume 240 km3 (58 cu mi)
Surface elevation 905 m (2,969 ft)
Islands Samosir
Settlements Ambarita, Pangururan
References [1]

Lake Toba (Indonesian: Danau Toba) is a large natural lake occupying the caldera of a supervolcano. The lake is about 100 kilometres long, 30 kilometres wide, and up to 505 metres (1,666 ft) deep. Located in the middle of the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with a surface elevation of about 900 metres (2,953 ft), the lake stretches from to . It is the largest lake in Indonesia and also the largest volcanic lake in the world.[1]

Lake Toba is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption estimated at VEI 8 that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago,[2][3][4] representing a climate-changing event. It is the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, it had global consequences for human populations: it killed most humans living at that time and is believed to have created a population bottleneck in central east Africa and India, which affects the genetic make up of the human world-wide population to the present.[5]

It has been accepted that the eruption of Toba led to a volcanic winter with a worldwide decrease in temperature between 3 to 5 °C (5.4 to 9.0 °F), and up to 15 °C (27 °F) in higher latitudes. Additional studies in Lake Malawi in East Africa show significant amounts of ash being deposited from the Toba eruptions, even at that great distance, but little indication of a significant climatic effect in East Africa.[6]


Batu Gantung (Hanging stone) in Lake Toba

The Toba caldera complex in Northern Sumatra, comprises four overlapping volcanic craters that adjoin the Sumatran "volcanic front." The fourth and youngest caldera is the world's largest Quaternary caldera (100 by 30 km (62 by 19 mi)) and intersects the three older calderas. An estimated 2,800 km3 (670 cu mi) of dense-rock equivalent pyroclastic material, known as the youngest Toba tuff, was released during one of the largest explosive volcanic eruptions in recent geological history. Following this eruption, a resurgent dome formed within the new caldera, joining two half-domes separated by a longitudinal graben.[3]

At least four cones, four stratovolcanoes, and three craters are visible in the lake. The Tandukbenua cone on the northwestern edge of the caldera has only sparse vegetation, suggesting a young age of several hundred years. Also, the Pusubukit (Hill Center) volcano (1971 metres above sea level) on the south edge of the caldera is solfatarically active and is a Geology Sanctuary.[7][8]

Major eruption

Location of Lake Toba shown in red on map.

The Toba eruption (the Toba event) occurred at what is now Lake Toba about 75000±900 years ago.[9] It was the last in a series of at least four caldera-forming eruptions at this location, with earlier calderas having formed around 788000±2200 years ago.[10] This last eruption had an estimated VEI=8, making it possibly the largest explosive volcanic eruption within the last 25 million years.

Bill Rose and Craig Chesner of Michigan Technological University have estimated that the total amount of material released in the eruption was about 2,800 km3 (670 cu mi)[11]—about 2,000 km3 (480 cu mi) of ignimbrite that flowed over the ground, and approximately 800 km3 (190 cu mi) that fell as ash mostly to the west. However, based on the new method(crystal concentration and exponential), Toba possibly erupted 3200 km³ ignimbrite and co-ignimbrite. The pyroclastic flows of the eruption destroyed an area of least 20,000 km2 (7,722 sq mi), with ash deposits as thick as 600 m (1,969 ft) by the main vent.[11]

The eruption was large enough to have deposited an ash layer approximately 15 cm (5.9 in) thick over all of South Asia; at one site in central India, the Toba ash layer today is up to 6 m (20 ft) thick[12] and parts of Malaysia were covered with 9 m (30 ft) of ash fall.[13]

The subsequent collapse formed a caldera that, after filling with water, created Lake Toba. The island in the center of the lake is formed by a resurgent dome.

Landsat photo of Sumatra surrounding Lake Toba

The exact year of the eruption is unknown, but the pattern of ash deposits suggests that it occurred during the northern summer because only the [15][16]

Evidence from studies of mitochondrial DNA suggests that humans may have passed through a genetic bottleneck around this time that reduced genetic diversity below what would be expected given the age of the species. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, proposed by Stanley H. Ambrose of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1998, the effects of the Toba eruption may have decreased the size of human populations to only a few tens of thousands of individuals.[17] However, this hypothesis is not widely accepted because similar effects on other animal species have not been observed, and paleoanthropology suggests no Population Bottleneck happening.[18][19]

More recent activity

Since the major eruption ~70,000 years ago, eruptions of smaller magnitude have also occurred at Toba. The small cone of Pusukbukit formed on the southwestern margin of the caldera and lava domes. The most recent eruption may have been at Tandukbenua on the northwestern caldera edge, suggested by a lack of vegetation that could be due to an eruption within the last few hundred years.[20]

Some parts of the caldera have shown uplift due to partial refilling of the magma chamber, for example, pushing Samosir Island and the Uluan Peninsula above the surface of the lake. The lake sediments on Samosir Island show that it has risen by at least 450 m (1,476 ft)[10] since the cataclysmic eruption. Such uplifts are common in very large calderas, apparently due to the upward pressure of below-ground magma. Toba is probably the largest resurgent caldera on Earth. Large earthquakes have recently occurred in the vicinity of the volcano, notably in 1987 along the southern shore of the lake at a depth of 11 km (6.8 mi).[21] Such earthquakes have also been recorded in 1892, 1916, and 1920–1922.[10]

Lake Toba lies near the Great Sumatran fault, which runs along the centre of Sumatra in the Sumatra Fracture Zone.[10] The volcanoes of Sumatra and Java are part of the Sunda Arc, a result of the northeasterly movement of the Indo-Australian Plate, which is sliding under the eastward-moving Eurasian Plate. The subduction zone in this area is very active: the seabed near the west coast of Sumatra has had several major earthquakes since 1995, including the 9.1 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the 8.7 2005 Sumatra earthquake, the epicenters of which were around 300 km (190 mi) from Toba.


Batak canoes near Haranggaol on Lake Toba (circa 1920)

Most of the people who live around Lake Toba are ethnically Bataks. Traditional Batak houses are noted for their distinctive roofs (which curve upwards at each end, as a boat's hull does) and their colorful decor.[22]

Flora and fauna

The flora of the lake includes various types of phytoplankton, emerged macrophytes, floating macrophytes, and submerged macrophytes, while the surrounding countryside is rainforest including areas of Sumatran tropical pine forests on the higher mountainsides.[23]

The fauna includes several species of zooplankton and benthic animals. Since the lake is oligotrophic (nutrient-poor), the native fish fauna is relatively scarce, and the only endemics are Rasbora tobana (strictly speaking near-endemic, since also found in some tributary rivers that run into the lake)[24] and Neolissochilus thienemanni, locally known as the Batak fish.[25] The latter species is threatened by deforestation (causing siltation), pollution, changes in water level and the numerous fish species that have been introduced to the lake.[25] Other native fishes include species such as Aplocheilus panchax, Nemacheilus pfeifferae, Homaloptera gymnogaster, Channa gachua, Channa striata, Clarias batrachus, Barbonymus gonionotus, Barbonymus schwanenfeldii, Danio albolineatus, Osteochilus vittatus, Puntius binotatus, Rasbora jacobsoni, Tor tambra, Betta imbellis, Betta taeniata and Monopterus albus.[26] Among the many introduced species are Anabas testudineus, Oreochromis mossambicus, Oreochromis niloticus, Ctenopharyngodon idella, Cyprinus carpio, Osphronemus goramy, Trichogaster pectoralis, Trichopodus trichopterus, Poecilia reticulata and Xiphophorus hellerii.[26]

Panoramic view of Lake Toba


See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ Global Volcanism Program page on Toba
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c d ]
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^
  13. ^ , noted by Weber.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Gathorne-Hardy, F. J., and Harcourt-Smith, W. E. H., "The super-eruption of Toba, did it cause a human bottleneck?", Journal of Human Evolution 45 (2003) 227–230.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Lumbantobing, D. N. (2010). Four New Species of the Rasbora trifasciata-Group (Teleostei: Cyprinidae) from Northwestern Sumatra, Indonesia. Copeia 4: 644-670
  25. ^ a b Saragih, B., and S. Sunito (2001). Lake Toba: Need for an integrated management system. Lakes & Reservoirs: Research & Management 6(3): 247–251.
  26. ^ a b FishBase (2012). Species in Toba. Accessed 25 January 2012

Additional reading

External links

  • Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia – Accessed 11 December 2005
  • Volcanic Winter, and Differentiation of Modern HumansStanley H. Ambrose, Accessed 11 December 2005
  • , National GeographicWho KnewJoel Achenbach, Accessed 11 December 2005
  • (Lake Toba Ecosystem Management Plan) From
  • Lake Toba travel guide from Wikivoyage
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