Tambora

Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World

GILLEN D’ARCY WOOD
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjv5c
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    Tambora
    Book Description:

    When Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, it unleashed the most destructive wave of extreme weather the world has witnessed in thousands of years. The volcano's massive sulfate dust cloud enveloped the Earth, cooling temperatures and disrupting major weather systems for more than three years. Amid devastating storms, drought, and floods, communities worldwide endured famine, disease, and civil unrest on a catastrophic scale. On the eve of the bicentenary of the great eruption,Tamboratells the extraordinary story of the weather chaos it wrought, weaving the latest climate science with the social history of this frightening period to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.

    The year following Tambora's eruption became known as the "Year without a Summer," when weather anomalies in Europe and New England ruined crops, displaced millions, and spawned chaos and disease. Here, for the first time, Gillen D'Arcy Wood traces Tambora's full global and historical reach: how the volcano's three-year climate change regime initiated the first worldwide cholera pandemic, expanded opium markets in China, set the stage for Ireland's Great Famine, and plunged the United States into its first economic depression. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein's monster, inspired by Tambora's terrifying storms, embodied the fears and misery of global humanity during this transformative period, the most recent sustained climate crisis the world has faced.

    Bringing the history of this planetary emergency grippingly to life,Tamborasheds light on the fragile interdependence of climate and human societies, and the threat a new era of extreme global weather poses to us all.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5140-9
    Subjects: General Science, Physics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. NOTE ON MEASUREMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION FRANKENSTEIN’S WEATHER
    (pp. 1-11)

    The War of Independence between Britain and America provisionally ended with the Treaty of Paris in December 1783. But official ratification of the peace accord was delayed for months by a mix of political logistics and persistent bad weather. The makeshift U.S. capital in Annapolis, Maryland, was snowbound, preventing assembly of congressional delegates to ratify the treaty, while storms and ice across the Atlantic slowed communications between the two governments. At last, on May 13, 1784, Benjamin Franklin, wrangling matters in Paris, was able to send the treaty, signed by King George himself, to the Congress.

    Even while scrambling to...

  6. CHAPTER ONE THE POMPEII OF THE EAST
    (pp. 12-32)

    On April 10, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, recently escaped from the island of Elba, was back in Paris and up to his usual tricks. While he charmed one old foe—the liberal journalist Benjamin Constant—into composing a new French constitution guaranteeing democratic rights, he bullied his friend General Davout into raising a half-million-man army. A reenergized Napoleon intended to reclaim full dictatorial powers over France and as much of Europe as possible.

    Over in Vienna, on April 10, the aristocratic elite of Europe had cut short their endless round of balls and gourmandizing to hurry up the business of carving...

  7. CHAPTER TWO THE LITTLE (VOLCANIC) ICE AGE
    (pp. 33-44)

    On a clear winter’s day in early 1819, Mary and Percy Shelley visited the ruins of Pompeii, outside Naples. “I stood within the city disinterred,” as Percy remembered it.¹ The excavation of Pompeii, a half century before, had brought volcanism alive to the imaginations of Europeans. The unearthed city presented a stunning image of human calamity in the face of a major eruption. The Shelleys wandered among the grand theaters, villas, and neatly designed streets of an advanced society that vanished overnight in AD 79. That Vesuvius had recently awoken from a period of dormancy to offer belching reminders of...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “THIS END OF THE WORLD WEATHER”
    (pp. 45-71)

    On the eve of the infamous lost summer of 1816, eighteen-year-old Mary Godwin took flight with her lover, Percy Shelley, and their baby for Switzerland, escaping the chilly atmosphere of her father’s house in London. Mary’s young stepsister, Claire Clairmont, accompanied them, eager to reunite with her own poet-lover, Lord Byron, who had left England for Geneva a week earlier. Mary’s other sister, the ever dispensable Fanny, was left behind.

    The dismal, often terrifying weather of the summer of 1816 is a touchstone of the ensuing correspondence between the sisters. In a letter to Fanny, written on her arrival in...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR BLUE DEATH IN BENGAL
    (pp. 72-96)

    Homer’s epic war poem, theIliad, long honored as the originating text of Western literature, opens with an invading army encampment devastated by disease. The god Apollo, angered by the Greeks’ poor treatment of one of his priests, descends on the beach of Troy “angered in his heart”:

    He came as night comes down and knelt then

    apart and opposite the ships and let go an arrow.

    Terrible was the clash that rose from the bow of silver . . .

    The corpse fires burned everywhere and did not stop burning.¹

    Given the classical education of the British empire’s medical...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE THE SEVEN SORROWS OF YUNNAN
    (pp. 97-120)

    We know from a British emissary onboard a ship bound for Canton in the summer of 1816 that Chinese skies still bore their lurid volcanic imprint some fifteen months after Tambora’s eruption. The description is among the best we have of the most remarkable volcanic weather seen on Earth for perhaps thousands of years:

    The evening of the 9th of July, the sky exhibited such novel though brilliant appearances, as led us to fear that they would be followed by formidable changes of weather. The course of the sun, as it sunk beneath the horizon was marked by a vivid...

  11. CHAPTER SIX THE POLAR GARDEN
    (pp. 121-149)

    From the flooded mountain pastures of Yunnan, we must now travel thousands of miles aboard Tambora’s sulfate plume to the melting ice cap of the polar north. As we have seen, the Arctic has been, since the 1960s, a key repository of scientific evidence for reconstructing Tambora’s eruption and climate impacts. But in the years immediately following the 1815 eruption in Britain, “scientific” interest in the Arctic was inseparable from the twin political agendas of government and the Royal Navy: namely wealth and glory. How Tambora conspired to both excite and thwart the Arctic dreams of a generation of British...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN ICE TSUNAMI IN THE ALPS
    (pp. 150-170)

    While John Barrow peddled his theories of global warming to a gullible Admiralty in late 1817, others put a more commonsensical gloss on the cold, violent weather of the Tambora period. The world was getting permanently colder across the entire hemisphere: a frightening age of glaciation was underway. In a long essay baldly titled “Climate,” a writer for theMorning Chroniclein London reflected gloomily on the deteriorating atmosphere:

    In America, as well as in Europe, the climate and temperature of the air seem to have undergone an equal vicissitude within the last few years. The changes are more frequent,...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT THE OTHER IRISH FAMINE
    (pp. 171-198)

    It is important to remember that the misery of the Tambora period in Europe—years of famine, disease, and homelessness—was borne overwhelmingly by the poor, who left scant record of their sufferings. For the middle and upper classes—including the Shelleys and their circle—the social and economic upheaval of those years presented only minor inconveniences. By contrast with the illiterate underclass, these affluent Europeans left voluminous accounts of their lives and impressions, including great poems like “Mont Blanc.” To look at only their documentary record, therefore, can leave one with the misleading idea that the Tambora years were...

  14. CHAPTER NINE HARD TIMES AT MONTICELLO
    (pp. 199-228)

    From Indonesia to India, from China to the Alps, from the Arctic wastes to the villages of Ireland, our Tambora story has contained multitudes. We have sailed hemispheres and crisscrossed domains of earth, sea, and sky. Now finally we turn to North America, where the folk memory of the Year without a Summer has, arguably, endured longer than anywhere else. Writing in 1924, meteorological historian Willis Milham could nominate the disastrous growing season of 1816 as the most “famous . . . written about” weather event in American history: “If all the statements in climatologies, in books on the weather,...

  15. EPILOGUE ET IN EXTREMIS EGO
    (pp. 229-234)

    So near to us in geological time, 1815–18 was—in human terms—a remote age of small farms and horses. Railroads and steamships lay a few decades in the future, the mass-produced automobile a century away. Cocooned within our own advanced food and transport infrastructure in the developed world, it is easy to lose sight of the significance of animal mortality on a preindustrial world. The cold conditions and lack of grain in Europe during the 1816–18 climate crisis meant untold losses in livestock and the death of countless thousands of horses. The decimation of Europe’s preindustrial transport...

  16. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 235-236)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 237-258)
  18. GENERAL BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 259-280)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 281-294)