Can volcanos ruin your summer?

In 1816, the year Dora Jordan died, Europe and most of North America seemed to be cursed. It was the year without a summer. The skies were overcast. Frost and even snow was common. Yes, it snowed in New England on 4th of July. Crops failed. Because of crop failures, horses, the main source of transportation, were expensive to feed. It’s believed this gave rise to the invention of the bicycle. Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein and the Gothic era of fiction took off. What gave rise to all this gloom and doom? The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the previous year.

The explosion knocked 4,000 feet of stone and rock from the top of the volcano. Ten thousand residents were killed immediately and 90,000 later starved.

In repose for thousands of years, the volcano began rumbling in early April of 1815. Soldiers hundreds of miles away on Java, thinking they heard cannon fire, went looking for a battle. Then, on April 10, came the volcano’s terrible finale: three columns of fire shot from the mountain, and a plume of smoke and gas reached 25 miles into the atmosphere. Fire-generated winds uprooted trees. Pyroclastic flows, or incandescent ash, poured down the slopes at more than 100 miles an hour, destroying everything in their paths and boiling and hissing into the sea 25 miles away. Huge floating rafts of pumice trapped ships at harbor.

Throughout the region, ash rained down for weeks. Houses hundreds of miles from the mountain collapsed under the debris. Sources of fresh water, always scarce, became contaminated. Crops and forests died….The major eruptions ended in mid-July, but Tambora’s ejecta would have profound, enduring effects. Great quantities of sulfurous gas from the volcano mixed with water vapor in the air. Propelled by stratospheric winds, a haze of sulfuric acid aerosol, ash and dust circled the earth and blocked sunlight.

The particles from the eruption settled and life returned to normal for the survivors. But this isn’t the only example of volcanos messing with life on earth.

A series of volcanic eruptions, beginning in 1256 and lasting until 1455, probably created the Little Ice Age. An abundant formation of polar ice kept the northern hemisphere cold until 1860. In other words, 1816 was a cold era, created by volcanos, made much colder by another volcano.

Long robes, hats–it’s damn cold in the 1500s! (Photo is a portrait of the alchemist Paracelsus)

More recently, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 created a cooling effect which lasted for three years.

Numerous volcanos are erupting right now with the most dangerous one being Nyiragongo in the Congo.

You can view a map of erupting volcanos.

So, if people ask you why it is so cold today even if we have global warming, there are plenty of good answers but if you want a simplistic answer maybe it’s the volcanos.

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