200 year anniversary of the ‘Year Without a Summer’

  • The crater at Mount Tambora, Indonesia, a legacy of the eruptions 200 years ago, taken on 3rd June 2009 from the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/JSC

    The ash plume from Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland getting caught up in a weather system, 14th May 2010. Image credit: NASA Goddard/MODIS Rapid Response Team

    A MeteoEarth image showing the location of Mount Tambora, Indonesia on the left, and the UK on the top right, illustrating the vastnes of the globe affected by climate anomaly as a result of Tambora's eruption.

  • 200 year anniversary of the ‘Year Without a Summer’
    19.05.2016 13:59

    The year of 1816 is known as the ‘Year Without a Summer’ because severe climate abnormalities caused the average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4-0.7C (0.7-1.3F). This dramatic drop in global temperatures also led to major food shortages which is why 1816 is also described as the ‘Poverty year’.

    Scientists have found evidence to suggest the anomaly was caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 which resulted in what is known as a volcanic winter event.  Mount Tambora is located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia and was the highest peak in the region. Previously thought to be an extinct volcano it first erupted on April 5th 1815 sending a plume of ash eighteen miles into the sky. However, it was on April 10th that Mount Tambora erupted again, but this time far more violently. The eruption destroyed the top three thousand feet of the volcano leaving behind a crater three miles wide and half a mile deep, looking like it had been struck by a meteor. The explosiveness of a volcanic eruption, can be measured in a similar way to the way the strength of earthquakes are measured using the Richter Scale. The scale used for volcanoes is called the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) and measure the how much volcanic material is ejected, the height the material is thrown into the atmosphere and how long the eruptions last. This is then measured on a logarithmic scale of 1-8 where an increase of 1 on the scales indicates an eruption 10 times more powerful than the number before it on the scale. Tambora was given 7 on the VEI scale and described as super-colossal eruption. This made it approximately one thousand times more powerful than the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull which disrupted air travel in 2010 which was only rated 4. One hundred times stronger than Mount St Helens which was a 5 and ten times more powerful than Krakatoa and Mount Pinatubo which were both a 6 on the VEI scale. Only four other eruptions in the last hundred centuries have reached a score of 7.

    Such a massive eruptions had devastating consequences not just for the people living in the local vicinity in Indonesia at the time, but for places as far afield as New England, Atlantic Canada and parts of western Europe over a number of years. This was due to sheer amount of volcanic ash that hurled into the upper atmosphere. The substantial amount of atmospheric dust that reached the upper atmosphere, slowly spread across the world causing temperatures to fall worldwide due to reduced sunlight being able to past through the stratosphere and also caused havoc to the local weather patterns. Cool temperatures and heavy rains in the summer of 1816 as a result of the eruptions lead to failed harvests in Britain and Ireland. Famine was prevalent not only in Britain in Ireland but also across much of Europe. It was the worst famine of 19th Century Europe.

    By: Claire Austin