Decreases in surface temperatures after the eruptions of Tambora (1815), Krakatau (1883), and Agung (1963) were of similar magnitude, even though the amount of material (dust and volatiles) injected into the stratosphere by these three events differed greatly. Large amounts of fine ash and volatiles were dispersed into the upper atmosphere by Krakatau and Tambora; the Agung eruption in 1963 was a much smaller, vulcanian-type eruption which injected dust and volatiles into the stratospheric aerosol layer more directly. Analyses of magmatic volatiles indicate that the Agung eruption was proportionately richer in SO2 and Cl than either Tambora or Krakatau. Relative amounts of fine ash produced by the Tambora, Krakatau, and Agung eruptions are estimated at about 150:20:1, whereas the masses of atmospheric sulfate aerosols produced were on the order of 7.5:3:1.
Decreases in surface temperature of a few tenths of a degree C for several years following volcanic eruptions are primarily a result of the sulfate aerosols, rather than of the silicate dust. The similarity in the atmospheric response after these three eruptions supports the idea of limiting mechanisms on volcanic stratospheric-aerosol loading, which is suggested by microphysical processes of aerosol particles. Fluctuations in stratospheric aerosol optical depth seem to be controlled to a large degree by high-intensity sulfur-rich eruptions (e.g., Agung, 1963), which may however be relatively small in total ejecta volume. Such eruptions leave little geologic record, but appear as acidity peaks in polar ice cores.