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Taupo Eruption

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Massive New Zealand eruption 1,800 years ago flung volcanic glass 3,000 miles to Antarctica

Scientists disagree about the timing of the Taupō volcanic eruption — one of the largest on Earth in the past 5,000 years — but shards of glass discovered in Antarctic ice could settle this debate.

When New Zealand’s Taupō volcano erupted 1,800 years ago, its immense blast flung shards of glass all the way to Antarctica. Now, scientists have unearthed some of this ancient volcanic debris — which could help pinpoint the exact year this huge eruption took place.

Fallout from the Taupō eruption — one of the most violent eruptions on Earth in the last 5,000 years — has proved incredibly tricky to find, dragging out a decades-long debate over its exact timing.

Radiocarbon dating of trees that were killed by the blast indicated a date of A.D. 232, but some experts argued the evidence may have been contaminated and the eruption occurred up to two centuries later.

Researchers looking for Taupō debris in West Antarctica finally struck gold, when they drilled up ice cores from 915 feet (279 meters) below the ground.

“Our discovery of seven geochemically unique volcanic glass shards buried deep within an ice core confirms the likely timing of the eruption in late summer/early autumn in the year 232,” study lead author Stephen Piva, a doctoral candidate in the school of geography, environmental and Earth sciences at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, said in a statement.

The researchers analyzed the debris’ chemical composition, which enabled them to trace six shards to the Taupō eruption and the seventh to a much earlier eruption of the same volcano — the Ōruanui eruption, which occurred roughly 25,500 years ago, according to the study, published Monday (Oct. 9) in the journal Scientific Reports.

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