The year 1816 was a year without summer in Europe and North America. Crops failed, people froze and starved. This was supposedly caused by a volcano eruption in Indonesia the year before. The volcano Tambora erupted April 10th, 1815. I say this was supposedly caused by the volcano, because I don’t buy it.
I came across this subject matter a couple of years ago when doing research on something else. So better late than never, right?
First of all, if the volcano erupted in Indonesia, in Asia, why it only affected Europe and North America? Well, according to Wikipedia:
“In China, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops, and even water buffalo, especially in the north. Floods destroyed many remaining crops. The monsoon season was disrupted, resulting in overwhelming floods in the Yangtze Valley. In India, the delayed summer monsoon caused late torrential rains that aggravated the spread of cholera from a region near the Ganges in Bengal to as far as Moscow.”
However, the source for that only links to Discovery Channel UK’s website. No mention of these disasters. Wikipedia continues:
“In Japan . . . the cold damaged crops, but no crop failures were reported, and there were adverse effects on population.”
The source for this is a dubious looking Japanese language article, but at least it’s something, and it does mention Tambora, but if I understand correctly (my Japanese is quite rusty), it says in Japan crop failures were not confirmed, and they were not adversely affected. In case I misunderstood something in the Japanese, let’s look at the Wikipedia quote:”the cold damaged crops, but no crop failures were reported, and there were adverse effects on population.” Does that make any sense? If crop failures were not reported, how can people today know that they happened? How did it adversely affect the population?
There’s a decent article on this event on ThoughtCo. website. It makes no mention of China or Japan, only Europe and North America:
“The weather in 1816 was unprecedented. Spring arrived as usual. But then the seasons seemed to turn backward, as cold temperatures returned. In some places, the sky appeared permanently overcast. The lack of sunlight became so severe that farmers lost their crops and food shortages were reported in Ireland, France, England, and the United States.”
Supposedly dust from Mount Tambora’s eruption over a year before “had shrouded the globe. And with sunlight blocked, 1816 did not have a normal summer.” They also quote a couple of excerpts from newspapers from the time. From the Boston Independent Chronicle, June 17, 1816:
“On the night of 6th instant, after a cold day, Jack Frost paid another visit to this region of the country, and nipped the beans, cucumbers, and other tender plants. This surely is cold weather for summer.
On the 5th we had quite warm weather, and in the afternoon copious showers attended with lightning and thunder — then followed high cold winds from the northwest, and back back again the above mentioned unwelcome visitor. On the 6th, 7th, and 8th June, fires were quite agreeable company in our habitations.”
From The Albany Advertiser, October 6:
“The weather during the past summer has been generally considered as very uncommon, not only in this country, but, as it would seem from newspaper accounts, in Europe also. Here it has been dry, and cold. We do not recollect the time when the drought has been so extensive, and general, not when there has been so cold a summer. There have been hard frosts in every summer month, a fact that we have never known before. It has also been cold and dry in some parts of Europe, and very wet in other places in that quarter of the world.”
There’s another excerpt from the same article mentioning a possible relation between sunspots and the cold summer:
“Many persons suppose that the seasons have not thoroughly recovered from the shock they experienced at the time of the total eclipse of the sun. Others seem disposed to charge the peculiarities of the season, the present year, upon the spots on the sun. If the dryness of the season has in any measure depended on the latter cause, it has not operated uniformly in different places — the spots have been visible in Europe, as well as here, and yet in some parts of Europe, as we have already remarked, they have been drenched with rain.
Without undertaking to discuss, much less to decide, such a learned subject as this, we should be glad if proper pains were taken to ascertain, by regular journals of the weather from year to year, the state of the seaons in this country and Europe, as well as the general state of health in both quarters of the globe. We think the facts might be collected, and the comparison made, without much difficulty; and when once made, that it would be of great advantage to medical men, and medical science.”
Notice anything lacking? There is no mention of the sun being obscured by dust, as the ThoughtCo. article claimed. Had volcanic dust “shrouded” the Earth, surely people would have commented on that too. The last newspaper quote does mention “the total eclipse of the sun”, so you might say that means the dust was obscuring the sun. The closest total eclipse of the sun prior to writing of the Albany Advertiser article published in October 1816 was July 6, 1815, which is probably referred to here. There were eclipses also in December 1815 and May 1816, but they weren’t total.
This wouldn’t be the only time that volcano dust is accused of causing mayhem, but I don’t buy it. In 2010 the volcano in Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull, erupted. Because of it air traffic was disrupted in many places. The volcanic ash was supposedly harmful to airplanes, so they couldn’t fly at certain times in certain places. I don’t know why, but even back then I thought the volcano was an excuse to prevent planes from flying. Maybe there was heavy clandestine military traffic in the air, and they didn’t want civilians to see it. Maybe it was something else.
It’s interesting that the old newspaper article mentions sunspots as the possible cause for the coldness, since there have been some modern day theories that sunspot activity causes the earth to warm instead the usual Greenhouse Effect/Global Warming/Climate Change CO2 claptrap. The ThoughtCo. article also mentions the notion that a volcano eruption caused the summerless year in 1816, originated a hundred years after it took place in the 20th century.
Do Volcano Eruptions cause Global Cooling?
I don’t see causation between eruption of Mount Tambora and the summerless year. There is correlation, but we all know the old cliché. So let’s see if there are other cases of volcanoes causing the climate to cool down.
According to Wikipedia, i.e. the establishment, there is. The page on Volcanic Winter has some examples, three most recent ones are:
1991: Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines cooled temperatures for 2-3 years
1883: Krakatoa caused four years of cold.
1815: Mount Tambora.
Now let’s look at some temperature charts I found with Google.
This starts with the year 1850, so Tambora’s effects cannot be seen. However we see sharp spike of warming around 1878 or so, then a year later the temperature goes back to normal. Around 1883 or so, when the Krakatoa erupted the temperature does indeed go down for a couple of years. Then it goes back up again. Around 1890, it goes down. Soon up. Temperature goes down in 1900. Were there volcano eruptions also in 1890 and 1900 as well that caused those cold periods?
Around 1990, the time of Mount Pinatubo eruption, there is hardly any change to be seen. The temperature just keeps zigzagging up and down, although overall its obviously climbing. Let’s look at another chart.
Krakatoa erupted 1883, and the four following years were cold, i.e. until 1887, according to Wikipedia. Sure, I don’t disagree with any of that, but according to this chart 1890 and 1905-1912 are much colder than the cool period following the eruption of Krakatoa. What volcanoes erupted then, Mount Obama and Mount Pikachu?
There’s also a brief cold period around the eruption of Pinatubo in 1991, but the same pattern happens also in the 80s before that and in the late 90s. More charts.
This is from the oh so trustworthy NASA. Do I even need to say anything about this chart? Same as the others in the sense that warm and cold periods come and go without giving a fuck about volcanoes.
According to this chart, during this 30 year period the years following the eruption of Pinatubo are indeed the coldest (although 1985 looks to be around the same point). It’s just that the time span is short, and its contradicted by the other charts. You can choose which one to believe. I believe none of them.
It might be that the Earth is getting warmer. That is a possibility, but I am certain it’s not due to CO2 gases. That is a political issue pushed for political reasons, not for scientific ones, which is why I don’t fully trust “scientists” and their temperature charts. Still if I was to do so, these charts would not support the argument that volcano eruptions cause cooling, except the last one, which is hardly objective since it has been made with the explicit reason of claiming that the eruption of Pinatubo caused global cooling. If there is some sort of causation between climate cooling and volcano eruptions, I would guess it’s more like the other way around; the climate starts getting cooler, which somehow causes a chemical reaction in the volcano. Not because volcano ash or dust blocks sunlight, which in turn causes cooling.
Eruption of Mount Tambora
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, wrote about the eruption of Mount Tambora (here Tomboro) on the island of Sumbawa in the book The History of Java published 1830. In April 1815 there were “tremulous motions”, report of explosions, showers of ash, clouds of ash overcast the sun and ash covered streets and houses. No such clouds were reported in Europe or America. On Java “explosions were heard at intervals, like the report of artillery or the noise of distant thunder”. Officers thought they were cannon fire, possibly from pirates: “The first explosions were heard on this island (Java) in the evening of the 5th of April: they were noticed in every quarter, and continued at intervals until the following day. The noise was, in the first instance, universally attributed to distant cannon: so much so, that a detachment of troops was marched from Djocjocarta, under the apprehension that a neighbouring post had been attacked”. After they saw ash, they realized it wasn’t pirates.
The book mentions Lieutenant Owen Phillips’ report of the incident. There were three pillars of fire on top of the volcano, and a powerful whirlwind that tore aparts houses, trees, people and cattle. There was a big tsunami as well. The eruption destroyed whole villages, but there were survivors: “In Pekáté no vestige of a house is left: twenty-six of the people, who were at Sumbawa at the time, are the whole of the population who have escaped. From the most particular inquiries I have been able to make, there were certainly not fewer than twelve thousand individuals in Tomboro and Pekáté at the time of the eruption, of whom only five or six survive.” I presume the “five or six” means five or six thousand, not five or six individuals.
The first time I read the account from Raffles’ book, I wondered whether really was a volcano eruption due to the cannon fire sounds and the whirlwind. However, apparently whirlwinds can accord due to eruptions. It happened last year as Mount Kilauea in Hawaii erupted last year. Although the intensity of the whirlwind at Tamboro was much stronger. Explosions don’t seem that unusual when it comes to volcanoes either.
There is one interesting addition to this story though. In 2006 volcanologist (and Tolkien character) Haraldur Sigurdsson found the remains of a “lost kingdom” in Tambora. He found bones, ceramics and remains of houses. NPR website says the following: “Few written records of the lost civilization exist. Colonial British officials visited Tambora shortly before it was buried. About 10,000 people lived there. The officials recorded 48 words of their language. It wasn’t Malay, like other Indonesian dialects, but more like the Khmer language of Cambodia.”
So there was a unique culture there with a unique language, and now it has apparently been wiped out by the volcano. Yet according to the British officer in the book, almost half of the people managed to escape. Something doesn’t add up.
Maybe since the people lost their homes, they were absorbed into other tribes, and lost their unique culture, since they had little choice but to adapt. Or maybe it was a very significant culture that someone wanted to wipe out. The volcano eruption might have been used as a cover for genociding them, or maybe the eruption was artificially induced to wipe them out. The explosions might have been actual explosives used as a catalyst for the volcano. Just throwing out ideas since something feels off.
I do not think that the eruption of Mount Tambora caused the summerless year in 1816. What caused it then? It was probably natural, though of course one might always speculate about ancient geo-engineering technologies, but I think it was a natural yet unusual occurrence. The theory that Tambora caused the cooling in the summer is probably just a result of the smugness of academics, who think they have all the answers, and no-one can conclusively disprove their accepted orthodoxy of a 200-year old event.
The eruption of Tambora was probably natural as well. Probably. I do wonder about the kingdom that was wiped out though.
Year Without Summer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer or http://archive.vn/oyQ40
Supposedly evidence of China’s summerless year: https://www.discoveryuk.com/
The Year Without a Summer Was a Bizarre Weather Disaster in 1816: https://www.thoughtco.com/the-year-without-a-summer-1773771
List of solar eclipses in the 19th century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_eclipses_in_the_19th_century
Air travel disruption after the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_travel_disruption_after_the_2010_Eyjafjallaj%C3%B6kull_eruption
Volcanic winter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanic_winter
The History of Java: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/49843/49843-h/49843-h.htm
Lava whirlwind caught on two-month mark of Kilauea eruption: https://www.upi.com/Lava-whirlwind-caught-on-two-month-mark-of-Kilauea-eruption/1521530721674/
Culture Destroyed by 1815 Volcano Rediscovered: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5237808