On this Day 5th Apr 1815: Mt Tambora erupted


200 years ago today began one of largest volcanic eruptions in human history. Mount Tambora, east of Bali in Indonesia, erupted in 1815 reaching a peak of activity on the 10th April, and has subsequently been dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the East’. The explosion was heard as far away as Sumatra (2000km away). That means it’s not a record breaker, beaten to the post by the famous Krakatoa volcano, which banged so loudly it was heard 4,800km away (WOW!) and which retains the legendary status of loudest sound ever heard in modern history. However, Tambora still let off a pretty big boomathon.  

Mount Tambora Volcano, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia

Mt Tambora crator
NASA Expedition 20 crew. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One record to which it does hold claim however, is the sheer amount of the fiery stuff it ejected - a whole 160 km cubed. And that’s a lottalava. 38 cubic miles for those of you still on the imperial system. It had a devastating effect on the local area. Of the estimated 71,000 people killed by the eruption, only 11,000 of those were directly from the explosion. The remaining deaths were largely caused by famine and associated diseases, due to the complete agricultural ruin caused by the widespread lava. 

Tambora-Vesuv

By geoethno.Geoethno at de.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

Do you remember the flight cancellations caused by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, 2010? Hard not to really with all of the poor news reporters standing in airports desperately trying to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull whilst maintaining some level of journalistic dignity. Well, imagine that on a massive scale. Are you imagining? Yup it’s pretty scary. Mount Tambora’s 1815 eruption caused what is known as a year without summer in 1816. No summer?! And no Olaf to make amends?! Do you want to build a snoooowman? Yup, I went there…made a Frozen reference in what was meant to be a serious blog, oops…


Back to the issue in hand: all over the world, weather was disturbed, temperatures fell and agriculture failed. Which, as you can imagine, caused a pretty serious food crisis problem. Snow fell over North America in June 1816 up to about 30 cm. In June! I live in Scotland where flurries in May are not totally unknown, but 30cm is something else! Agricultural crops were effectively ruined for the year and many people starved. Families all over the British countryside fled, travelling the country as refugees, desperately looking for food. Looting, rioting and mass civil disruption followed. And all because of one volcano on the other side of the world. 

Caldera Mt Tambora Sumbawa Indonesia

Mt Tambora
By Jialiang Gao (peace-on-earth.org) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Although it is a highly rare occurrence it is always possible that a volcano on this scale may well happen in the future. However good our monitoring systems and evacuation plans, it is impossible to stem the flow. We can predict but we certainly cannot prevent. So as summer looks set to finally arrive, enjoy it! You never know when it might be taken by Ash, Fire or an Ice Queen (Frozen again, sorry, I just can’t contain myself…)


On a much smaller scale but still fairly dramatic, Tuesday 7th April sees the 109th anniversary of the second most recent eruption of Mt Vesuvius, famous for the 79AD eruption that caused the preservation of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Vezuviy 1906 avant

Mt Vesuvius before the eruption - 1906
By Frank Alvord Perret (1867-1943) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Vezuviy 1906 apres

Mt Vesuvius after the eruption - 1906
By Giuseppe Mercalli (1850-1914) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1906 eruption was far smaller but still killed 100 people and caused the relocation of the 1908 Olympic Games from Naples to London. It is another volcano which has the potential to produce an enormous explosion in the future and is constantly monitored for seismic activity, the lives of the thousands of people of Naples and the surrounding areas depending on the knowledge. 

Napoli and Vesuvius

Naples with Vesuvius in the background
By Errabee {{GFDL}} {{cc-by-sa-2.5}} The city of Napoli and the Vesuvius. Own photo, august 2003.

So, whilst this seems like an odd choice of blog for an Easter Sunday when everyone is sitting enjoying the company of their family, chocolate and the possibility of a long walk in the beautiful sunshine later, it carries an important message. However, much we grow and learn as humans, however much we conquer the earth, pillage, scour and exploit its riches, nature will always be more powerful. The earth is a beautiful, wonderful home to us all but it is also a dangerous place and must be respected, not ripped apart. So whilst you are enjoying your glorious and hopefully peaceful Sunday afternoons, I urge you to look around you, just for a moment, and feel thankful that today, Mother Nature smiles upon us and gives us all of her blessings for a beautiful and hopefully volcano free day. 

© Isla Robertson 2017