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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Rockin’ the World

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 19, 2011

Huaynaputina in Peru

February 19, 1600: The most powerful volcanic eruption in South America’s recorded history takes place. Huaynaputina, the Quecha word for “new volcano” is located in Peru in the Andes mountain chain. The mountain measures 15,912 feet in height. The volcano has been dormant since this catastrophic event.

Huaynaputina is a stratovolcano which means that it is a tall, conical volcano formed by layers of lava, tephra, and volcanic ash. These types of volcanoes usually have steep profiles and exhibit periodic, explosive events. The pyroclastic flow, the hot flowing rock, gases, and ash with temperatures in the 100-800º Celsius range, flowed for 8 miles. The lahars or mudflows destroyed villages on its 75 mile march to the Pacific. Ashfall blew as far as 150-300 miles away. It took 150 years for the land to fully recover.

The power or force of a volcano is measured using the Volcanic Explosivity Index [VEI] and this event was a VEI 6. The scale runs from 0-12 and is based on the plume height and volume of ejected effluvium. The most powerful volcanic activity in recorded time is a VEI 7 with the rest having happened hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of years ago, while the earth was more or less still forming herself. In the last 10,000 years there have been 4 VEI 7 eruptions and 39 VEI 6.

For comparison sake, Krakatau, the famous 1883 eruption, was a VEI 6 while Vesuvius in 79 AD that destroyed Pompeii was a VEI 5. Mount St. Helen in 1980 was also a 5. The scale ranges from “non-explosive” through “ultra-mega-colossal” with plumes reaching more than 15.5 miles [25 km] for the last seven categories. The “ejecta volume” for VEI 5 is 1 square kilometers and 6 is 10 square kilometers with each successive rating increasing by a power of ten. It is expected that a VEI 6 volcano will erupt every 100 years or so. Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the last VEI 6. The Tambora volcano in 1815 was a VEI 7, a force that is reached about once every 1000 years.

“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance.” – Albert Einstein

“You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“This volcano is a sleeper. Most of the time it’s very pleasant, like it is today. The lava just comes out quietly and there’s really no huge hazard associated with it.” – Don Swanson

“I wish I was a volcano to lay on my back all day smoking and have everybody say: Look, he is working!” – Tom Manders

Also on this day:
Cracker Jack – In 1912, Cracker Jack began to include prizes in every box.
Bollingen Prize – In 1949, the first Bollingen Price was awarded.