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Volcano Effects

The Year Without a Summer, also known as the Poverty Year and Eighteen hundred and froze to death, was 1816, in which severe summer climate abnormalities destroyed crops in Northern Europe, the American Northeast and eastern Canada[1][2]. Historian John D. Post has called this "the last great subsistence crisis in the western world".

  Causes

It is now generally thought that the aberrations occurred because of the 5 April15 April 1815 volcanic eruptions of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies (in today's Indonesia) which ejected immense amounts of volcanic dust into the upper atmosphere.

Other volcanoes were active during the same time frame

These other eruptions had already built up a substantial amount of atmospheric dust. As is common following a massive volcanic eruption, temperatures fell worldwide owing to less sunlight passing through the atmosphere.

  Description

The unusual climate aberrations of 1816 had the greatest effect on the American northeast, the Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland, and northern Europe. Typically, the late spring and summer of the northeastern U.S. are relatively stable: temperatures (average of both day and night) average about 68–77°F (20–25°C), and rarely fall below 41°F (5°C). Summer snow is an extreme rarity, though May flurries sometimes occur.

In May of 1816, however, frost killed off most of the crops that had been planted, and in June two large snowstorms in eastern Canada and New England resulted in many human deaths. Nearly a foot of snow was observed in Quebec City in early June. In July and August, lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Rapid, dramatic temperature swings were common, with temperatures sometimes reverting from normal or above-normal summer temperatures as high as 95°F (35°C) to near-freezing within hours. Even though farmers south of New England did succeed in bringing some crops to maturity, maize (corn) and other grain prices rose dramatically. Oats, for example, rose from 12¢ a bushel the previous year to 92¢ a bushel.

  Effects

In America, many historians cite the year without a summer as a primary motivation for the western movement and rapid settlement of what is now central and western New York and the American Midwest. Many New Englanders were wiped out by the year, and tens of thousands struck out for the richer soil and better growing conditions of the Upper Midwest (then the Northwest Territory). (A specific instance of this was when the family of Joseph Smith, eventual founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moved from Sharon, Vermont to Palmyra, New York in western New York state after several crop failures.) While crops had been poor for several years, the final blow came in 1815 with the eruption of Tambora.

Europe, still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars, suffered from food shortages. Food riots broke out in Britain and France and grain warehouses were looted. The violence was worst in landlocked Switzerland, where famine caused the government to declare a national emergency. Huge storms, abnormal rainfall and floodings of the major rivers of Europe (including the Rhine) are attributed to the event, as was the frost setting in during August 1816. A BBC documentary using figures compiled in Switzerland estimated that fatality rates in 1816 were twice that of average years, giving an approximate European fatality total of 200,000 deaths.

The eruption of Tambora also caused Hungary to experience brown snow. Italy experienced something similar, with red snow falling throughout the year. The cause of this is believed to have been volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

  Cultural effects

Hong Kong sunset circa 1992 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
Hong Kong sunset circa 1992 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

In July 1816 "incessant rainfall" during that "wet, ungenial summer" forced Mary Shelley, John William Polidori and their friends to stay indoors for much of their Swiss holiday. They decided to have a contest, seeing who could write the scariest story, leading Shelley to write Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Polidori to write The Vampyre.

High levels of ash in the atmosphere led to unusually spectacular sunsets during this period, a feature celebrated in the paintings of J. M. W. Turner. (A similar phenomenon was observed after the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, and on the West Coast of the United States following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.)

The lack of oats may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the Draisine or velocipede. This was the archetype of the modern bicycle (also motorcycle) and a step towards mechanized personal transport.[3]

  Comparable events

  References

  • BBC Timewatch documentary: Year Without Summer, Cicada Films (BBC2, 27 May 2005)
  • Henry & Elizabeth Stommel: Volcano Weather: The Story of 1816, the Year without a Summer, Seven Seas Press, Newport RI 1983 ISBN 0915160714
  • Hans-Erhard Lessing: Automobilitaet: Karl Drais und die unglaublichen Anfaenge, Leipzig 2003

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