Space and Science

Why a volcanic eruption caused a ‘year without a summer’ in 1816

CNN  — 

It happened more than two centuries ago, but its impact remains enormous. Historians have credited the infamous “year without a summer” of 1816, at least indirectly, with the invention of the bicycle and the writing of the classic novel “Frankenstein.”

In April of 1815, Mount Tambora exploded in a powerful eruption that killed tens of thousands of people on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. The following year became known as the “year without a summer” when unusually cold, wet conditions swept across Europe and North America.

Since 1913, researchers have suggested that the two events were linked. Now a new study shows that the cold summer temperatures of 1816 wouldn’t have been possible without the volcanic eruption. The research published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The immediate effects of the volcano resulted in mass destruction. The eruption, the flows that came from it and the related tsunamis destroyed homes and claimed 10,000 lives. Another 80,000 would die from disease that spread in the aftermath.

Mount Tambora's crater -- half a mile deep and more than 7 miles wide -- was created by its April 1815 eruption.

“The eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815 was among the most explosive of the last millennium,” said Andrew Schurer, lead study author and research associate at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences. “It had an enormous impact locally, devastating the island of Sumbawa.”

The tremendous amount of material ejected by the volcano contributed to the global impact that followed.