Lake Toba is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption estimated at VEI 8 that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago, representing a climate-changing event. Recent advances in dating methods suggest a more accurate identification of 74,000 years ago as the date. 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 worldwide population to the present.
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.
On 18 June 2018, Lake Toba was the scene of a ferry disaster, in which over 190 people drowned.
The Toba caldera complex in North Sumatra comprises four overlapping volcanic craters that adjoin the Sumatran "volcanic front". With 100 by 30 km [62 by 19 mi] it is the world's largest Quaternary caldera, and the fourth and youngest caldera. It 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.
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 (1,971 m (6,467 ft) above sea level) on the south edge of the caldera is solfatarically active.