Saturday 11 April 2015

200 years ago today - the biggest volcanic eruption of modern history

200 years ago today, the Indonesian volcano of Tambora was spewing molten rock nearly 30 miles up into the atmosphere. It is a less famous disaster than Krakatoa, also in modern-day Indonesia 68 years later, but this was the most powerful eruption of at least the last 500 years.

The immediate death toll on the island of Sumbawa, where the volcano is located, was perhaps 12,000, but across the world, hundreds of thousands may have perished in the volcanic winter that came after the eruption, as ash blotted out the sun.

It brought starvation to China's Yunnan province, hunger and disease to India, while the great chill killed many across Europe as global temperatures fell by perhaps three degrees, with the effect persisting into the following summer. There were food riots in Britain and France, while soup kitchens had to be opened in Manhattan.

The ash meant many countries experienced strange, dramatic sunsets, some of which inspired the great painter, J.M.W. Turner, while the 'wet, ungenial summer' in Switzerland confined Mary Shelley and her friends indoors. For entertainment, they had a story competition. Mary's entry was Frankenstein. The rotten weather was even thought to have contributed to Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.

For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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