The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 was the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. According to Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, the eruption affected the world’s weather for at least three years, inspired artists & writers, triggered famine, contributed to the world’s cholera epidemic, and altered economic systems all over the world.
Here, Gillen D’Arcy Wood traces Tambora’s global and historical reach: how the volcano’s three-year climate change regime initiated the first worldwide cholera pandemic, expanded opium markets in China, and plunged the United States into its first economic depression. Bringing the history of this planetary emergency to life, Tambora sheds light on the fragile interdependence of climate and human societies to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.
The particles high in the atmosphere also produced spectacular sunsets, as detailed in the famous paintings of J.M.W. Turner, the English landscape pioneer. His vivid red skies, Dr. Wood remarked, “seem like an advertisement for the future of art.”
The story also comes alive in local dramas, none more important for literary history than the birth of Frankenstein’s monster and the human vampire. That happened on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where some of the most famous names of English poetry had gone on a summer holiday.
The sound made by the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 was so loud it ruptured eardrums of people 40 miles away, travelled around the world four times, and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away.
Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Travelling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history.
A much much smaller eruption occurred recently in Papua New Guinea. From the video, you can get a tiny sense of the sonic damage unleashed by Krakatoa:
Holy smoking Toledos indeed. On Reddit, a user details how loud a Saturn V rocket is and what the effects would be at different distances. At very close range, the sound from the Saturn V measures an incredible 220 db, loud enough to melt concrete just from the sound.
At 500 meters, 155 db you would experience painful, violent shaking in your entire body, you would feel compressed, as though deep underwater. Your vision would blur, breathing would be very difficult, your eardrums are obviously a lost cause, even with advanced active noise cancelling protection you could experience permanent damage. This is the sort of sound level aircraft mechanics sometimes experience for short periods of time. Almost twice as “loud” as putting your ear up to the exhaust of a formula 1 car. The air temperature would drop significantly, perhaps 10-25 degrees F, becoming suddenly cold because of the air being so violently stretched and moved.
Even at three miles away, the sound is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. But that’s nothing compared to the Krakatoa sound. The Saturn V sound is ~170 db at 100 meters away while the Krakatoa explosion was that loud 100 miles away! What happens at 170 db?
…you would be unable to breathe or likely see at all from the sound pressure, glass would shatter, fog would be generated as the water in the air dropped out of suspension in the pressure waves, your house at this distance would have a roughly 50% chance of being torn apart from sound pressure alone. Military stun grenades reach this volume for a split second… if they are placed up to your face. Survival chance from sound alone, minimal, you would certainly experience permanent deafness but probably also organ damage.
The word “loud” is inadequate to describe how loud that is. (thx, david)
But the whale is not really as loud as the rocket, she told me. Because water is denser than air, sound in water is measured on a different decibel scale. In air, the sperm whale would still be extremely loud, but significantly less so - 174 decibels. That’s roughly equivalent to the decibel levels measured at the closest barometer, 100 miles away from the Krakatoa eruption, and is loud enough to rupture people’s ear drums. Suffice to say, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time swimming with the sperm whales.
“Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence, and this is only the second known instance anywhere in the world,” Elders said. The IDDP and Iceland’s National Power Company, which operates the Krafla geothermal power plant nearby, decided to make a substantial investment to investigate the hole further.
This meant cementing a steel casing into the well, leaving a perforated section at the bottom closest to the magma. Heat was allowed to slowly build in the borehole, and eventually superheated steam flowed up through the well for the next two years.
Elders said that the success of the drilling was “amazing, to say the least”, adding: “This could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal projects in the future.”
The well funnelled superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures of over 450°C — a world record. In comparison, geothermal resources in the UK rarely reach higher than around 60-80°C.
Scientists have discovered the source of a massive 13th century volcanic eruption: a volcano called Samalas on Indonesia’s Lombok Island. The blast was eight times as powerful as Krakatoa.
Though the eruption was equatorial, its impact was felt and noted around the world. “The climate was disturbed for at least two years after the eruption,” Lavigne said. Evidence of this was found in studies of tree rings that revealed abnormal growth rates, climate models, and historical records from as far afield as Europe.”
Medieval chronicles, for example, describe the summer of 1258 as unseasonably cold, with poor harvests and incessant rains that triggered destructive floods — a “year without a summer.” The winter immediately following the eruption was warmer in western Europe, however, as would be expected from high-sulfur eruptions in the tropics. The team cites historical records from Arras (northern France) that speak of a winter so mild “that frost barely lasted for more than two days,” and even in January 1258 “violets could be observed, and strawberries and apple trees were in blossom.”
Volcanoes “scream” before they erupt. And they also have a heartbeat of sorts. Listen to these surprisingly intense sounds emitted by a volcano in Alaska before it erupted. The first recording condenses 10 minutes of audio into 10 seconds, so you can hear the pre-eruption scream:
The second recording is of 10 hours of pre-eruption mini earthquakes condensed into one minute of audio.
The pause right before the eruption is Mother Nature dropping the beat. (via @DavidGrann)
What we’ve made of it all is an 88-page souvenir of a moment in time when a non-life-threatening crisis hit the world, one for which nobody was to blame, and nobody knew how long it would last. People scrambled to find alternative routes home, any way, any how, or tried to make the best of wherever fate had placed them. It was a moment of unplanned disruption, never to be repeated in quite the same way. The perfect subject for a magazine, in fact.
If you’d like to be a part of the core creative team who will put together this impromptu publication, let me know as well. The only criterion for any contributor is that, like me, you have to be stuck somewhere unintentionally. If all goes well, the results will be published, probably via MagCloud and/or the Newspaper Club, and any proceeds sent to a charity that helps mitigate the effects of climate change on human populations. After all, we have to repent somehow.
Publication name to consider: The Eyjafjallajokull End-Times.