In 2017, when Emma Martina Luigia Morano of Italy died, she was the last person from the 19th century to be alive. Little did we, who were born in the 20th or 21st century, know that people in that century experienced freezing temperatures in July, a deadly freeze in August. This was the darkest and most unusual weather ever seen for people back then. This was the summer of 1816, also known as the “year without summer”
Almost two centuries ago, 1816 was the year without summer for millions of people in the world. Those most affected were parts of North America and Europe, causing failed crops and near-famine conditions. Countries like India and China were not doing well either. The great drop in temperature led to the abrupt monsoon season and extreme weather.
Today’s historians have primarily recognized the cause of the infamous “year without summer” of 1816, at least indirectly, with the invention of the bicycle and the writing of the classic novel “Frankenstein”.
Little did they know that the invention of the bicycle was also caused by the events of the infamous year without summer. Agricultural failure was widespread during this time, which led to a massive increase in food prices.
This also increased the price of oats for horses, which were the main source of transportation at the time, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
People had to find an alternative to horses since it became very difficult to feed them when obtaining food to eat was a luxury. This has been credited with helping to inspire the invention of the bicycle by Karl Drais in 1817.
What caused the “year without summer”?
We did not have the resources to know what caused the event at that time. But the advance in technology allowed scientists and historians to discover the cause.
It was the largest volcanic eruption in human history, on the other side of the world, Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815, which released millions of tons of dust, ash, and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, temporarily changing the climate of the world and falling globally. temperatures up to 3 degrees.
Earth was already in a centuries-long global cooling period that began in the 14th century. Today, we know it as the Little Ice Age, it had already caused considerable agricultural problems in Europe.
The existing cooling of the Little Ice Age was made worse by the Tambora eruption, which occurred near the end of the Little Ice Age.
The year brought a lot of anguish to people
In addition to large food shortages, natural climate change also caused disease outbreaks, a widespread migration of people seeking a better (warmer read) home, and religious revivals as people tried to make sense of a sudden change in life due to calamity.
And it could happen again. Large volcanoes can erupt at any time and with little warning, potentially changing the climate and giving temporary respite to man-made global warming.
To understand the magnitude of the disaster, consider this, the Tambora eruption, on April 10, 1815, on the island of Sumbawa in what is now Indonesia, was 100 times more powerful than the explosion of Mount St. Helens in 1980, according to us USA Geological Survey, which rated the eruption as a seven on its eight-level volcanic explosive index.
The volcano blew out enough ash and pumice to cover a 100-mile square area on each side at a depth of almost 12 feet, according to the book, The Year Without Summer, by Klingaman and his father, William K. Klingaman.
It was by far the deadliest volcanic eruption in human history, the Klingaman’s wrote, with a death toll of at least 71,000 people, up to 12,000 of whom died directly from the eruption. See the sharp peak in 1915 in the table above.
When a volcano erupts, it does more than blow ash clouds, which can cool a region for a few days and disrupt the plane ride. It also spews sulfur dioxide, reports NASA.
A strong enough eruption shoots that sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, more than 10 miles above Earth’s surface. At this point, sulfur dioxide reacts with water vapor to form sulfate aerosols.
Because these sprays float above the height of the rain, they are not washed away by rain and water. Rather, they remain, reflect sunlight, and cool the Earth’s surface, which is what caused the climate and climate impacts of the Tambora eruption more than a year later.
Summers were no longer like your usual summer season
Heavy snow fell in northern New England from June 7 to 8, with deviations 18-20 inches high. In Philadelphia, the ice was so bad that “all green herbs were killed and the vegetables of all descriptions were badly injured,” according to the American Weather Stories book.
Frozen birds fell dead on the streets of Montreal, and lambs died from exposure in Vermont, the New England Historical Society said.
On July 4, an observer wrote that “several men were throwing quoits (a game) in the middle of the day in heavy coats.” That month, a frost in Maine killed beans, cucumbers, and squash, according to meteorologist Keith Heidorn. Ice-covered lakes and rivers to southern Pennsylvania, according to Weather Underground.
When August came, the most severe frosts further damaged or killed crops in New England. People reportedly ate raccoons and pigeons for food, according to the New England Historical Society.
Things in Europe weren’t good either, the cold, wet summer led to famine, food riots, the transformation of stable communities into wandering beggars, and one of the worst typhus epidemics in history, according to The Year without Summer.
In China, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops, and even water buffalo, especially in the north. The floods destroyed many remaining crops.
The monsoon season was interrupted, resulting in overwhelming flooding in the Yangtze Valley. In India, the late summer monsoon caused late torrential rains that exacerbated the spread of cholera from a region near the Ganges in Bengal to Moscow.
In Japan, which was still cautious after the great cold-weather famine of 1782-1788, the cold damaged crops, but no crop failure was reported and there were no adverse effects on the population.
Scientists’ best estimate is that the global average temperature cooled by almost 2 degrees in 1816, said Nicholas Klingaman, who is also a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. Earth temperatures cooled by about 3 degrees, he added.
How soon could this happen again?
Historically, eruptions that match the Tambora scale occur once every 1,000 years on average, but smaller events can still have a major impact on the climate. The 1883 Krakatoa eruption in Indonesia there was a global cooling almost five years later, even though it expelled less material into the atmosphere than Tambora.
Similarly, Pinatubo in 1991 in the Philippines caused global temperatures to cool by about 1 degree. Eruptions of that magnitude, about one-sixth the size of the Tambora eruption, occur approximately once every 100 years.
Any of those other volcanoes could erupt again, perhaps on a Tambora scale or greater.
The study of how volcanoes impact climate is relatively new: Scientists didn’t even know about this link between volcanic eruptions and global cooling until the 1960s and 1970s.
With global temperatures at record levels, a massive eruption today could reduce man-made climate change. But the effect would be only temporary: warming would continue where it left off once all the stratospheric dust has settled, a process that could take a few years or up to a decade.
However, the result in people affected by the event could last much longer. The colorful and dusty skies of Tambora’s epic explosion inspired some of the British artist J. M. W. Turner’s most spectacular sunset paintings, some of which were painted decades after the eruption.