Sunday, May 29, 2011

1816: The Year Without A Summer, Part II

An unusual confluence of geological and astronomical factors precipitated The Year Without A Summer. The inciting event was the earth-shaking eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia from April 5-15, 1815. This explosion was immense, the largest volcanic eruption in the world since the Hatepe eruption in c.180 AD in New Zealand. People in Sumatra, 1200 miles away, heard the blast, and heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java and Maluku islands.
The enormous amount of dust the volcano spewed into the atmosphere blocked the sun’s rays and lowered global temperature. But Tambora's eruption alone may not have caused 1816's disastrous weather. Other volcanic eruptions in the immediately preceding years (1812--La Soufrière on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, and Awu on Sangihe Islands, Indonesia: 1813--Suwanosejima on Ryukyu Islands, Japan: 1814--Mayon in the Philippines) had set the stage by already darkening the skies and depressing temperatures around the world. In addition, all these eruptions took place during a Dalton Minimum, a period of unusually low solar activity.

Although most of the effects of The Year Without A Summer were disastrous (see my previous post), some were positive.

The large amounts of dust in the air produced spectacular sunsets worldwide, and most likely inspired J.M.W. Turner's paintings (Chichester Canal pictured).

The weather also inspired Lord Byron’s 1816 poem, Darkness:

The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air

In Switzerland, the atrocious weather forced Mary Shelley and John William Polidori, on holiday with their friends, to stay indoors. Mary Shelley used the time to write Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and John William Polidori penned The Vampyre, two novels which influence us to this day.

And Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy, is set in the English countryside in the autumn of 1816. The Year Without a Summer's bad harvest leads the pumpkin thief to the heroine's pumpkin patch.

Thank you all,


Cathie Dunn said...

Interesting, Linda. Just shows how natural disasters can affect other parts of the world without them knowing.

Thanks for posting.

Paula Martin said...

I wonder if the Icelandic volcano eruptions are having the same effect nowadays? Last year's summer was a non-event (following the ash-cloud in May), and we've just had another dismal, cold, wet and windy May. Seems like the warm spell we had for three week in April may be the only summer we'll get this year :-(

Linda Banche said...

You're welcome, Cathie. We take the weather for granted, but it's a big factor in our lives.

Hi Paula. I'm sure the Iceland volcanoes affected English weather last year. The effects were almost immediate because you're so close to Iceland. In 1816, Tambora's eruption in Asia didn't affect the West until the next year because the resulting dust needed time to make the journey. I make a reference to this in PUMPKINNAPPER.

catslady said...

Our weather definitely is changing - let's hope it's not another year without a summer! I do wonder if Frankenstein would have ever been written! Interesting as always.

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, catslady. And you never know what can happen!