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Volcanic Winter

Article #136 • Written by Jason Bellows

The caldera at Mount Tambora, Sumbawa, Indonesia
The caldera at Mount Tambora, Sumbawa, Indonesia

In France, on 6 April 1815, Napoleon surrendered his throne in favor of his sons. The coalition that opposed him were still in the midst of sorting out a way to deal with the French conquerer when on the other side of the world—on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa—the largest volcanic explosion in human history took place.

The exact date that Mount Tambora erupted is lost to obscurity since the populace of the area was mostly killed. Those who were far enough for safety yet near enough to note the event didn’t make a priority of recording the date. Best estimates of modern science make the date for 10 April 1815.

The eruption event blew 100 cubic kilometers of pyroclastic trachyandesite into the air, and ripped about 4,000 feet off the top of the caldera—leaving the once 13,000 foot hight peak at about 9,000 feet. The explosion threw enough debris into the air that a mild volcanic winter resulted; it caused crop-killing frosts in North America in June, and dubbed 1816 to be The Year Without a Summer.

It’s common for major volcanic activity to affect the weather, and usually for the cooler, but never to the scale observed in 1816. The eruption of Mount Tambora is the largest in recorded history, though dwarfed by some prehistoric events. It is a hint of just how much havoc a volcano can wreak. On several nearby islands everything died, including vegetation. The immediate effects of the blast-- the pyroclastic flows, toxic gases, and hot ash-- killed 10,000 people. Some 82,000 more died in the vicinity and the ruins that remained. But the global aftermath is much harder to measure.

In North America, June generally brought average temperatures of about 68-77° Fahrenheit; in June of 1816 there were major snowstorms in Pennsylvania, crops were killed by frost, and rivers remained iced over. Food was scarce, and most items that were harvested were triple the price they had been the year previous. It’s impossible to know how many died from the resulting famine.

At the time, there was no known cause for the freakish weather, though Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with lightning were sometimes blamed for altering nature. Some think that the cold spurred expansion into the American midwest.

But one positive effect of the explosion: all the ash in the upper atmosphere makes for some colorful sunsets.

Article written by Jason Bellows, published on 14 March 2006. Jason is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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28 Comments
Glen c.
Posted 14 March 2006 at 04:25 pm

Hmm, very interesting. Very surprising that I've never heard of this either. Wonder why they brushed over this little gem in history class. Anyway, how would this compare to the pending supervolcanic eruption of Yellowstone? I would do the research myself, but am unfortunately strapped for time.


MaddMan
Posted 14 March 2006 at 05:06 pm

Quite a good read. I'd never heard of this until now.


LL
Posted 14 March 2006 at 05:55 pm

Was the date of the blast 1815 or 1816?


rafnex
Posted 14 March 2006 at 06:11 pm

LL said: "Was the date of the blast 1815 or 1816?"

the eruption took place on 1815...and 1816 was dubbed as "The Year Without Summer" due to its effects.....and of course we all knew the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883


Oax
Posted 14 March 2006 at 07:54 pm

Last week, Rush Limbaugh, from whom I get all my environmental science, explained how the pollution we create is insignificant compared to volcanoes, so it's okay to pollute. Wow! he was right again!

If you wanna come over and shoot me, please feel welcome...


myname
Posted 14 March 2006 at 10:23 pm

I would, but i'm busy.


Dustin Barbour
Posted 15 March 2006 at 02:04 am

Glen c. said: "Anyway, how would this compare to the pending supervolcanic eruption of Yellowstone?"

In short, it wouldn't. An eruption of Yellowstone would result in a true volcanic winter and not a "mild volcanic winter" as Mr. Bellows called that of 1816. An eruption of Yellowstone would result in ash covering a majority of the western United States. Cities would be evacuated, deserted... you name it. This would result in a significant change in global economics, politics, food production. You do not want Yellowstone to go while you're alive. The power of the eruption would be absolutely fascinating, but the resulting famines and mass death would quickly change your mind.


Stuart
Posted 15 March 2006 at 02:52 am

Oax said: "Last week, Rush Limbaugh, from whom I get all my environmental science, explained how the pollution we create is insignificant compared to volcanoes, so it's okay to pollute."

This Rush Limbaugh seems quite a character, hadn't really heard of him before but one wikipedia search later and I have all the information I need to decide this guys a bigoted, republican idiot. And quite the porker I see too. If thats really what he said about pollution its the most ridiculous and irresponsible thing I've heard in a while. Even if natural geological activity causes climate change should we really increase the effect by burning every fossil fuel we can lay our hands on? Its like if you know theres a flood coming and its gonna fill you house with water: you can't really stop it but the last thing you do is turn on all the taps and start flooding it in advance. Good idea Limbaugh. No wonder Jon Kleinman said, "It is my view that he's one of the most dangerous men in America."


wh44
Posted 15 March 2006 at 02:56 am

Dustin Barbour said: The power of the eruption would be absolutely fascinating, but the resulting famines and mass death would quickly change your mind.

Fascinating and horrifying are not a contradictory. From Serenity, the movie:

"This could get interesting."

"Define interesting."

"Oh God. Oh God. We're all going to die?"


Marius
Posted 15 March 2006 at 04:33 am

Stuart said: "This Rush Limbaugh seems quite a character, hadn't really heard of him before but one wikipedia search later and I have all the information I need to decide this guys a bigoted, republican idiot. And quite the porker I see too. If thats really what he said about pollution its the most ridiculous and irresponsible thing I've heard in a while. Even if natural geological activity causes climate change should we really increase the effect by burning every fossil fuel we can lay our hands on? Its like if you know theres a flood coming and its gonna fill you house with water: you can't really stop it but the last thing you do is turn on all the taps and start flooding it in advance. Good idea Limbaugh. No wonder Jon Kleinman said, "It is my view that he's one of the most dangerous men in America.""

If you have truly not heard of Rush before now, and aren't just chain yanking, then keep in mind that he makes his living based on ratings. He often says ridiculous things just to stir up trouble. I agree with Al Franken's opinion of him, so I don't take anything he says seriously.


LL
Posted 15 March 2006 at 04:45 am

If it was really in 1815 why did it take over a year for the major effects to be felt? It seems like the summer of 1815 would have been worse than 1816.


Dustin Barbour
Posted 15 March 2006 at 10:25 am

LL said: "If it was really in 1815 why did it take over a year for the major effects to be felt? It seems like the summer of 1815 would have been worse than 1816."

It took over a year because winds don't circulate that quickly. Plus it takes a while for a general cooling to take place. Stick a fresh pork roast in the freezer for a few minutes. When you pull it out, it's still going to be hot. Things only cool so quickly. What I wonder is if the winter of 1815/1816 was an especially nasty one or not.


Stuart
Posted 15 March 2006 at 02:17 pm

Marius said: "If you have truly not heard of Rush before now, and aren't just chain yanking, then keep in mind that he makes his living based on ratings. He often says ridiculous things just to stir up trouble. I agree with Al Franken's opinion of him, so I don't take anything he says seriously."

I genuinely hadn't heard of Limbaugh before; we don't get him in Britain but we do have similar people in the media who simply stare up trouble to get ratings. I know that people generally ignore most of what they say but, as the saying goes, if you throw enough crap around some of it will stick. I suppose its just sad that a large proportion of people will accept what they hear in the media at face value. I like Al Franken though: sound guy.


cocoabongo
Posted 15 March 2006 at 11:09 pm

Britain isn't even a country. I can compare it to real life and playing dress up. Britain is just like Canada, they like to pretend they are imporant, but they are nothing but an ant hill. Back in mother Russia this unspeakable stupidity would have been punished severely. I move that Stuart be removed from this site for his unacceptable postings from the viewpoint of a non-existent Britain.


Stuart
Posted 16 March 2006 at 04:08 am

I'd like to thank cocoabongo for putting me in my place.


JustAnotherName
Posted 16 March 2006 at 08:02 am

HA HA - LOL - Benjamin Franklin. I wonder if those who blamed him were ancestors of Rush Limbaugh. : )


Armani
Posted 18 March 2006 at 12:45 am

cocoabongo sounds like a glowing radioactive russian.


3rdreich
Posted 18 March 2006 at 06:56 am

There was a Discovery movie about Yellowstone, pretty interesting if you ask me.

If it were to erupt there would be unseen catastrophic events. I dont even want to think about it.


joe schmoe
Posted 18 March 2006 at 08:31 am

Oax said: "Last week, Rush Limbaugh, from whom I get all my environmental science, explained how the pollution we create is insignificant compared to volcanoes, so it's okay to pollute. Wow! he was right again!


If you wanna come over and shoot me, please feel welcome…"

OAX if I shot you it wouldn't be for listening to Rush it would be for being an inaccurate LIBERAL. Rush has never said it is okay to pollute, he said that the environment itself pollutes the atmosphere way more than we do/can through volcanoes and other natural disasters and there is nothing we can do about it. But the environmental wacko's want to set around and blame an SUV or anything else for every fear they can conjure up.

Just 1 example would be the article I read recently about the FEAR of loss of forest/tree's to plant bio fuel in developing countries. So now the SAVIOR to the environment is killing the environment? Mark my word hydrogen cars will be the source of a form of deadly pollution by the end of this decade. Why, because this type of person doesn't want anyone to succeed or better themselves unless it is them.

Credibility is quickly being lost with the environmental movement.


rp2
Posted 21 March 2006 at 10:58 am

So you're all just saying that Rush Limbaugh is going to put us into a volcanic winter??

Oops. I read the title of the page and the article, and I was expecting the comments to reflect the content of the article... sorry, my bad. I should have expected that someone would try to include the media or politics. I guess I'm just going blind through my optimism...


david_42
Posted 01 June 2006 at 08:34 pm

One of the world's largest known eruptions (Toba) took place in northern Sumatra (Indonesia) approximately 74,000 yrs ago, spewing over 2500 cubic kilometers of volcanic debri. This event is believed to have nearly wiped out the human race. Estimates run from a few thousand to perhaps a hundred thousand people made it through the five year-long winter.


Hayley
Posted 08 June 2006 at 11:04 am

Is a volcanic eruption's size simply measured by how many cubic kilometers (or any other cubic measurement) of volcanic ash/pyroclastic material it puts out?


Chalumeau
Posted 19 June 2006 at 07:28 pm

fyi, the summer of 1816 is also called "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death." I wonder when that phrase came into being, whether it was during the volcanic winter or in more modern times.

I agree with rp2. More volcano talk, please. :-)


ICEMAN1989
Posted 30 December 2007 at 11:56 am

My teacher said that Yellowstone National Park In the US is over a Super large Magma Storage Layer. And if it erupts It will bring another "year without a summer" except... instead of one year it would be ten years... THAT IS SCARY RIGHT THERE...


RangerMI6
Posted 23 February 2008 at 01:49 pm

Interesting article, but how or why would Ben Franklin be blamed in 1816? His experiments with electricity were in 1752, and the man died in 1790. It's doubtful that he would be blamed for something he did four decades earlier, or that anyone would remember or care.


a1c
Posted 09 August 2008 at 04:37 pm

Sorry, I was confused by the second photograph. I could swear it looked like the cover of Dianetics.


Bob Nesbo
Posted 30 September 2008 at 04:03 am

rp2 said: "So you're all just saying that Rush Limbaugh is going to put us into a volcanic winter??

Oops. I read the title of the page and the article, and I was expecting the comments to reflect the content of the article… sorry, my bad. I should have expected that someone would try to include the media or politics. I guess I'm just going blind through my optimism…"

Mention Rush and they come out of the woodwork. I agree. Discuss the topic...


Chewy G.
Posted 06 October 2008 at 07:32 pm

Yeah...Im in high school, but uh...im doing a project on this and this helps quite a bit, despite the unrelated topics, and these fricken nimrods with the glowing Russians. Yes, you pee-brain cocoabongo, Britain is a country with inhabitants wit yellow teeth and retarded accents.


END OF COMMENTS
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