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1815 eruption of Mount Tambora

1815 eruption of Mount Tambora

Located in Indonesia, it was the largest recorded volcanic eruption in human history.

Overview

The April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia is the largest recorded volcanic eruption in human history.Mount Tambora is located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. It is still an active stratovolcano that had been one of the tallest mountains in Indonesia. Mount Tambora was originally 14,100 feet tall but fell to just under 10,000 feet after the 1815 eruption.

Eruption details and aftermath
Mt. Tambora, Sumbawa island, Indonesia

The eruption began on April 5, 1815, and lasted several weeks. The height of the eruption occurred on April 10th when the mountaintop blew, with major eruptions continuing through July of that year.

The explosion ejected approximately 31 cubic miles of ash and was rated a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 7 due to its destructive effects.

Pyroclastic flows from the eruption reached the sea on all sides of the peninsula, and heavy tephra fall devastated the island and surrounding islands. The eruption also caused tsunamis in the surrounding area and formed a 6-km-wide, 1250-m-deep caldera, and produced global climatic effects.

Throughout the region, ash rained down for weeks. Houses hundreds of miles from the mountain collapsed under the debris. Sources of fresh water, already scarce, became contaminated. Crops and forests died. The smoke and ash from the eruption circumnavigated the Northern Hemisphere and caused "the year without a summer" in 1816 where average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere dropped a full degree Fahrenheit due to the dust in the atmosphere.

The volcanic winter that followed the eruption caused crop failures, food shortages, and flooding for most of North America, Western Europe, and parts of Asia. According to historical climatological sources, the death toll on the island was approximately 11,000 from pyroclastic flows and more than 100,000 from the resulting food shortages over the following decade. According to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL)’s homeschool-friendly 6-12 grade worksheet on volcanic eruptions, “[in] New England, snow fell in July of 1816, and temperatures reached the 30s.”

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Some believe that Mary Shelley's inspiration for her famous book Frankenstein is rooted in the global weather effects of the eruption of Mount Tambora. Shelley spent time during the summer of 1816 vacationing with Lord Byron and others in Switzerland. Lord Byron was an English poet, and the summer was unseasonably dark and cold. His poem "Darkness" described the summer as the “bright sun was extinguish’d” and “Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day.” Lord Byron challenged his visitors with writing their own macabre stories, and Shelley ended up writing Frankenstein. This account has been criticized over time and may or may not be her inspiration for the book.

Timeline

January 1, 1818
Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is published.
1816
The Northern Hemisphere endures "the year without summer" as temperatures drop an average of one degree farenheit.
July 1815
Major eruptions from Mount Tambora finally come to a halt.
April 10, 1815
Mount Tambora's mountain top explodes.
April 5, 1815
Mount Tambora begins erupting.

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

Blast from the Past

Smithsonian Magazine

Web

July 2002

Did a volcanic eruption in Indonesia really lead to the creation of Frankenstein?

Alan Marshall

Web

January 24, 2020

References

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