Today’s Factismal: The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 put enough ash into the atmosphere to cool the Earth and create “the Year without a Summer”.
Back in 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested that there might be a connection between unseasonably cold weather in Europe and the eruption of volcano Laki in Iceland. His idea didn’t gain much attention until 31 years later when Mount Tambora spewed forth ash and lava in the largest eruption ever observed. Though Krakatau, which came 68 years later, is better known, Mount Tambora’s eruption was ten times larger.
More than one third of the mountain disappeared in the eruption, which sent more than 24 cubic miles of ash into the air and reduced the mountain’s height by 4,000 ft. Ash shot more than 27 miles into the air. The explosion was heard more than 1,200 miles away. The lava flows, lahars, and tsunamis created by the eruption killed more than 11,000 people. But things would soon get even worse.
The eruption put ash, sulfur dioxide, and other particulates into the atmosphere where they reflected sunlight from the Earth, causing the globe to cool by nearly a full degree F. Though one degree doesn’t sound like much, it was enough to keep the ground frozen in North America and Europe until well into the summer. As a result, there were very few crops harvested that year, which led to widespread food shortages and the largest famine of the 19th century. The starvation and cold combined to kill an estimated 75,000 people, making this one of the deadliest natural disasters ever.
Fortunately, the cooling that a volcanic eruption creates is very short-lived. In less than four years, the ash and particulates had fallen from the air, allowing the globe to warm up. But the scientific interest that the eruption created continues to this day. When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 and when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it was Mount Tambora that vulcanologists compared them to.
Interestingly, vulcanologists monitoring Mount Tambora have noticed signs that it may be getting ready for another major eruption soon. When that happens (or when any other volcano erupts), they why not download the myVolcano app from the British Geological survey?