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Volcanic Winter July 30, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I’m not sure I have heard of this before – the ‘year without a Summer’, – 1816, a year where due to volcanic activity and an eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies there was a volcanic winter. So bad were effects that global temperatures plummeted during the year with famines ensuing across much of the world. Ireland was particularly severely hit. A further aspect of this was that it took place at the tail end of the ‘Little Ice Age’ which is dated from the 16th to 19th centuries.

The effects of the 1816 eruption persisted for a number of years after (assisted by other eruptions during the same period).

Still, here’s another curiosity. In 1808/1809 there was an eruption thought to have taken place in the Pacific, likely between Indonesia and Tonga, though no actual location has been determined which is likely to have contributed to an earlier decline in global temperatures. It’s fascinating to think of a world in which this lack of knowledge could occur – though as the wiki page notes… “Adding to the mystery was the expectation that any eruptions of that magnitude should have been noticed at the time.’

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1. Gearóid - July 30, 2017

There is a very good episode of BBC4’s In Our Time on this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b077j4yv

So many knock-on effects across the world.

I am a historian by training and passion. But in a publishing capacity, for my job, I attended AGU (American Geosciences Union) in San Francisco in Dec. 2015. The biggest geoscience conference in the world with ~20,000 attendees. I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who was collaborating on a project to track the effects of climate changes in the Hudson Bay area in the past few centuries. They had paleooceanographers, who utilise a variety of methods to track and model the physical changes, working with historians who sourced sailors’ logs and settlers and trappers’ diaries to find actual recorded examples of changes to the landscape of the bay through the centuries.

Historians and archaeologists really should work more with earth scientists, I think.

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WorldbyStorm - July 30, 2017

Thats’ genuinely interesting. Agreed too, definitely that sort of interdisciplinary engagement us hugely.important – vital actually.

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Aengus Millen - July 30, 2017

lol I was just about to reccomend this but I was beat to the punch. This is how I know I’m on the right blog.

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2. Dermot O Connor - July 30, 2017

A bit of volcanic winter would be lovely. Here in the Portland area we’re heading into a series of days with 100F+ weather = Tue-Fri are looking like 100/107/110/100; or a high of 44C, god help us.

Last night some imbecile of magnitude 1 was setting off illegal fireworks; the whole place is a tinderbox at this point. Seattle is dryer (rainwise) than Tucson Arizona, no joke. I’ve grown to loathe summers.

Regarding the climate being changed by singular events and 1808/9, there’s also the impact hypothesis (Younger-Dryas being the best known in relatively recent times; it’s still being argued over):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas_impact_hypothesis

I’ll say a little prayer for a volcano.

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3. Sean Munger - July 30, 2017

I am something of an expert on this topic. I just graduated from the University of Oregon with a Ph.D. in environmental history, and my dissertation was about what scientists term the “Cold Decade,” the period of temporary volcanic climate change between 1810 and 1819 caused by the 1809 eruption of “Mountain X” (my term) and the 1815 Tambora blast. I hope to be working my dissertation into a book on this topic over the next few years, but, without sounding boasty, I probably know as much about it as any historian ever has.

In fact I searched for clues as to the identity of Mountain X. I wasn’t entirely successful, though I do believe it probably was somewhere in what’s now Indonesia. The smoking gun will probably be found in indigenous records somewhere, like the 1257 eruption of Mt. Samalas was uncovered by researchers looking at the Babad Lombok chronicle. It’s rare for a stratospheric eruption to have gone unrecorded as late as 1809, so I’m certain the evidence is out there, it just has to hit the radar screen of Western archivists.

Also, there is considerable controversy about the concept of the “Little Ice Age.” Personally I don’t give as much credence to the concept as others do. A colleague of mine who has studied it, Sam White at Ohio State University, disagrees, but I’m uncomfortable with dating the LIA from 16th to the 19th centuries. I would argue there were significant cooling periods in the Middle Ages, some more in the 16th and 17th centuries, but speaking of a LIA as a monolithic event continuing on into the 19th century is, I think, very misleading. Nevertheless, this is a long-standing and probably unresolvable argument among environmental historians.

Glad to see the subject of the Cold Decade starting to make its way into the blogosphere!

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WorldbyStorm - July 30, 2017

So your feeling is that Mountain X is discoverable? That’d be truly remarkable.

I’ve wondered vaguely about the Little Ice Age and particularly the point re stretching into the 19th century. How robust is the evidence for it as a continuous event, or perhaps I should be asking is there some evidence that it was a sequence of smaller events?

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Sean Munger - July 30, 2017

Oh, it’s absolutely discoverable. It will probably be Indonesian historians who discover it, somebody who can read primary sources in the native languages, because the eruption didn’t hit the radar screen of Western sources.

The evidence for the LIA as a continuous event is not robust at all. In fact it’s an extrapolation from a lot of disparate data points. It was very much a sequence of smaller events, for which the evidence is compelling, but the farther you try to stretch it and the more monolithic you make it try to seem, the worse it gets. The evidence for LIA is not as cohesive, in my view, as the evidence for the Medieval Warm Period, which the LIA is often thought of (erroneously, in my view) as the “opposite” of.

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WorldbyStorm - July 30, 2017

Right, that’s intriguing. Is there a lot of research into Mountain X on the ground as it were? Or is this something that is more likely to be discovered in the medium to long term?

It’s odd, my primary focus is history (though science is an area I’m very interested in) and of a very different period but it seems to me to be as Gearoid notes above, that the necessity for a broad evaluation by scientists, historians and archaeologists plus numerous others is absolutely essential in these areas. Thinking about the challenges the LIA offers seems to me to be another instance of that. I’m certainly going to go back and have a look at the LIA on foot of what your research suggests.

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