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Delanceyplace: The Year Without A Summer

In 1815, the deadliest and most powerful volcanic eruption
in human history exploded out of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, sending ash eighteen miles into the sky and quickly causing the death of ninety thousand in Indonesia alone. The residue of this volcano quickly circled the earth, dimming sunlight
and dramatically lowering temperatures around the globe. This in turn damaged crops and economies around the world and left 1816 to be remembered as the year without a summer, write William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman.

Just before sunset on April 5, 1815, a massive explosion shook the volcanic island
of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago. For two hours, a stream of lava erupted
from Mount Tambora, the highest peak in the region, sending a plume of ash eighteen
miles into the sky. More than eight hundred miles away, Thomas Stamford Raffles,
the lieutenant-governor of Java, heard the blast at his residence and assumed it
came from cannon firing in the distance. ...

Around seven o'clock on the evening of April 10, Mount Tambora erupted once again,
this time far more violently. Three columns of flaming lava shot into the air, meeting
briefly at their peak in what one eyewitness termed 'a troubled confused manner.'
Almost immediately the entire mountain appeared to be consumed by liquid fire,
a fountain of ash, water, and molten rock shooting in every direction. Pumice stones
-- some walnut-sized but others twice the size of a man's fist -- rained down upon
the village of Sanggar, nineteen miles away. After an hour, so much ash and dust
had been hurled into the atmosphere that darkness hid the fiery mountaintop from

As the ash clouds thickened, hot lava racing down the mountain slope heated the
air above it to thousands of degrees. The air quickly rose, leaving behind a vacuum
into which cooler air rushed from all directions. The resulting whirlwind tore up
trees by the roots and swept up men, cattle, and horses. Virtually every house in
Sanggar was flattened. The village of Tambora, closer to the volcano, vanished
under a flood of pumice. Cascading lava slammed into the ocean, destroying all aquatic
life in its path, and creating tsunamis nearly fifteen feet high which swept away
everything within their reach. Violent explosions from the reaction of lava with
cold seawater threw even greater quantities of ash into the atmosphere, and created
vast fields of pumice stones along the shoreline. ... [Soon], Tambora's umbrella
ash cloud extended for more than three hundred miles at its widest point. ... Twenty-four
hours after Tambora erupted, the ash cloud had expanded to cover an area approximately
the size of Australia. ...

By the time the volcano finally subsided, Tambora had released an estimated one
hundred cubic kilometers of molten rock as ash and pumice -- enough to cover a
square area one hundred miles on each side to a depth of almost twelve feet -- making
it the largest known volcanic eruption in the past 2,000 years. Geologists measure
eruptions by the Volcanic Explosivity Index, which uses whole numbers from 0 to
8 to rate the relative amount of ash, dust, and sulphur a volcano throws into the
atmosphere. Like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, each step along the Explosivity
Index is equal to a tenfold increase in the magnitude of the eruption. Tambora merits
an Index score of 7, making the eruption approximately one thousand times more
powerful than the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which disrupted trans-Atlantic
air travel in 2010 but rated only a 4; one hundred times stronger than Mount St.
Helens (a 5); and ten times more powerful than Krakatoa (a 6). Only four other
eruptions in the last hundred centuries have reached a score of 7. ...

It was also by far the deadliest eruption in recorded history. ... Before the eruption,
more than twelve thousand natives lived in the immediate vicinity of Tambora. They
never had a chance to escape. Nearly all of them died within the first twenty-four
hours, mostly from ash falls and pyroclastic flows -- rapidly moving streams of
partially liquefied rock and superheated gas at temperatures up to 1,000 degrees,
hot enough to melt glass. Carbonized remains of villagers caught unaware were buried
beneath the lava; fewer than one hundred people survived. ...

In the end, perhaps another seventy to eighty thousand people died from starvation
or disease caused by the eruption, bringing the death toll to nearly ninety thousand
in Indonesia alone. No other volcanic explosion in history has come close to wreaking
disaster of that magnitude.

And yet there would be more casualties from Tambora. In addition to millions of
tons of ash, the force of the eruption threw 55 million tons of sulfur-dioxide
gas more than twenty miles into the air, into the stratosphere. There, the sulfur
dioxide rapidly combined with readily available hydroxide gas -- which, in liquid
form, is commonly known as hydrogen peroxide -- to form more than 100 million tons
of sulfuric acid.

Author: William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman
Title: The Year Without a Summer
Publisher: St Matin's Press
Date: Copyright 2013 by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman
Pages: 1, 7-8, 12-13, 15

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