Little Bits of History

Deadliest Volcano

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 10, 2011

Mount Tambora

April 10, 1815: Mount Tambora’s volcano begins a three month long eruption. The mountain lies about 200 miles north of the Java Trench system. It is estimated to be about 57,000 years old. Prior to this eruption, it was shaped as a typical stratovolcano with a high symmetrical cone and a single central vent. By use of radiocarbon dating, we know of three eruptions prior to this one. However, the magnitude of these previous eruptions are unknown. The estimated dates are about 3900 BC, 3050 BC, and 750 AD.

For several centuries prior to this massive eruption, the volcano had been dormant. Beginning in 1812, the volcano became active once again and the caldera began to rumble and a black could was produced. A moderate eruption took place on April 5, 1815 and a thunderous sound was heard as far away as Molucca Islands, 870 miles distant. Volcanic ash began to fall in East Java on April 6 and there were faint detonation sounds continuing for days.

At around 7 pm on this day, eruptions intensified. Three columns of flame rose and merged. An hour later, the entire mountain was said to be a mass of flowing “liquid fire” with pumice stones measuring up to 7.9 inches in diameter raining down. Hot pyroclastic flows came down the mountain to the sea and wiped out the village of Tambora. Loud explosions were heard until the next evening. The eruption was rated a seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index or roughly four times the energy of the 1883 Krakatau eruption. About 38 cubic miles of material was ejected making it the largest observed eruption in recorded history.

All vegetation on the island was destroyed. A moderate tsunami struck a number of islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The number of deaths is disputed. Direct deaths were about 10,000. On Sumbawa Island, there were about 38,000 deaths due to starvation and Lombok saw another 10,000. Others give the numbers as 48,000 and 44,000 for the two islands. Because of the sulfur released into the stratosphere, there was a global weather outcome as well. Weather was affected for at least two years as a result of this massive volcanic activity and resulted in the worst famine conditions in the nineteenth century for much of Europe.

Seach’s First Law of Volcanology:
You will miss the eruption.
Corollary one: If two volcanoes are about to erupt, you will go to the wrong one.
Corollary two: If one volcano is about to erupt you will either get there one day too late or leave one day too early.
Corollary three: The vent will erupt while you are changing films.
Corollary four: The volcano will erupt while it is covered in clouds.
Corollary five: You have to sleep sometime.

Seach’s Paradox:
A decrease in eruptive activity increases the risk.
Corollary one: Beware of a quiet volcano.

Seach’s Second Paradox:
Getting to the volcano is more dangerous than the volcano itself.

Seach’s First Law of Achievement:
The number of eruptions viewed, is inversely proportional to the number of meetings attended. – all from John Seach

Also on this day:
It’s Not Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings – In 1918 Jørn Utzon is born.
ASPCA Formed – In 1866, our animals friends received a voice.

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2 Responses

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  1. Sherry said, on April 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Apprently, then, unknown numbers of people died as a direct and indirect result of this volacanic eruption. WOW. Can you imagine if this happened today – with our technology and communications abilities? Katrina seemed overwhelming. Andrew seemed overwhelming. The Indonesian Tsunami was definitely overwhelming. I cannot imagine having the level of devastation the Mt. Tambora eruption caused literally in our faces (a la’ television/other media.) It makes me wonder if humankind could respond adequately to alleviate the immediate and long-term suffering. In the current day this disaster would have triggered mass movements of refugees and changed the course of commerce and government globally. In fact, I suppose, the original event DID – but we are so much more interconnected now than we once were. Let’s face it: we respond differently to natural disasters than we do, say, to armed conflict breaking out. So many countries are always up for a fight, but no so much when it comes to Mother Nature delivering a roundhouse punch.

    • patriciahysell said, on April 12, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      Because of the inter-connectivity of the world today, we know things about far away places immediately. There would have been a mass evacuation of the neighboring islands and/or food and water brought in. Two hundred years ago the world was truly a different place than it is today.


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