bright sun was extinguish'd... morn came and went--and came, and
On April 10, 1815, for the first time in about 5000 years, Tambora erupted. A series of large explosions began, sending a massive volcanic column into the air. This eruption was the biggest eruption in recorded history.
Tambora is a stratovolcano located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia (see map below), forming the Sanggar peninsula of the island. The island is part of a very active volcanic arc, which is part of the Ring of Fire around the Pacific Ocean.
Before the explosion, Tambora stood over 4000 m (13000 ft) high. Starting in 1812, 3 years before the huge eruption, the volcano started spewing steam and ash, and creating small tremors in the Earth. What people didn't know is what was coming next...
On the 5th of April, 1815, after laying quiet for over 5000 years, the first eruption began, lofting a volcanic column 25 km (15.5 miles) into the sky. This initial eruption was heard over 1000 km away.
On April 10, 1815, a series of eruptions began, culminating to the largest eruption in recorded history. The eruption lasted several days. It blew a chunk off of the mountain almost a mile wide. The volcanic column, after flying 40 km into the sky, returned to the ground, creating a huge pyroclastic flow of ash, pumice, and debris. The pyroclastic flow alone killed more than 10,000 people in its path. The ash that fell from Tambora travelled as far as 1300 km (800 miles) away.
When the pyroclastic flow reached the ocean, the debris created such a large displacement of water that tsunamis as high as 5 meters emanated out from the island. These tsunamis caused flooding, devastation, and death on many of the other Indonesian islands.
After the eruption was over, and estimated 100-150 cubic kilometers of ash and debris were said to have been ejected from the mountain. [for reference, in 1980, Mt. St. Helens ejected about one or two cubic kilometers]- see graph below
Volcanoes are measured by a Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI), on a scale of 1-8. Tambora had a VEI of 7. Only 4 other volcanoes in the last 10,000 years have had a VEI that high, and Tambora is the only volcano in recorded history with a VEI of 7.
The giant crater left at the top of the volcano (aka caldera-see image above) 4 miles wide and 3,640 ft. deep, a hole that is still quite obvious today. The ash that fell from the eruption at Tambora was devastating, killing all the crops and vegetation, causing more than 80,000 more deaths from famine and disease. This death count is the largest from any volcano eruption in recorded history. In addition, the amount of sulfur dioxide that was released into the stratosphere made 1816 the year without a summer.
The Year without a Summer
The summer temperatures in 1816 averaged just a few degrees below normal, but as mentioned, it frosted throughout the summer. The highs were still close to 100 degreed Fahrenheit on some days. However, the cold spells, especially at night, cause massive crop failure, and, as a result, even more famine.
The global changes in temperature did not occur until a year later. This delay was due to the fact that the stratospheric winds take that long to distribute the sulfur dioxide and volcanic ash all around the world.
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Gordon, George. "Darkness" as found at http://quotations.about.com/cs/poemlyrics/a/Darkness.htm Accessed on April 9, 2005.
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Oppenheimer, C. 2003. Climactic, environmental, and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815. Progress in Physical Geography 27:2. GeoREF. Accessed April 11, 2005.
San Diego State University Geology Department. date unknown. Climate effects of volcanic eruptions. http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/climate_effects.html Accessed March 15, 2005.
Smithsonian Institution. date unknown. Tambora. http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=0604-04=&volpage=photo Accessed March 15, 2005.
Suri, Dan. 2002. 1816-The year without a summer. http://dandantheweatherman.com/Bereklauw/yearnosummer.html Accessed March 15, 2005
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University of North Dakota-Volcano World. 2005. Tambora, Sumbawa, Indonesia. http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/southeast_asia/indonesia/tambora.html Accessed March 15, 2005.
Author: Becca Ethridge
Creation/revision date: December 8, 2007
Copyright © 2005 Earlham College. Revised December 8, 2007 . Send corrections or comments to Becca Ethridge