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The Year Without A Summer

Summer Without a Summer - Part 2

1816, dubbed year without a summer, was the result of Mount Tambora spewing clouds of ash and sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. In April 1815, the giant volcano erupted, killing at least 71,000 people; around 12,000 were killed directly by the eruption. Not all of the experience was negative, however, as the disastrous weather was the inspiration for the famous novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (Rice, 2016).

When Tambora erupted, the force of the blast was strong enough that it pushed sulfur dioxide at least 10 miles above the Earth’s surface. Water vapor reacted with the sulfur dioxide and formed something called sulfate aerosols. Since the altitude of 10 miles exceeds that of rain clouds, the aerosols will float over the earth lasting a long time, which is why we did not see the effects of the eruption until around a full year later (Rice).

The weather was terrible; frozen birds littered the streets of Montreal, and sheep died from the extreme temperatures in Vermont (Rice). Twenty inches of snow covered the ground in New England, and heavy frost in Maine destroyed vegetation. People even used pigeons and raccoons for food (Rice). Ash had dropped into the ocean, and so dense that ships had a hard time moving through it to get around (UCAR, 2012).

However, some good things came from the eruption. The famine caused travel prices to increase, and as horses were practically the only mode of transportation, “fuel” was mostly oats (UCAR). It is possible this is what caused a German man, Karl Drais, to invent a cheaper, fuelless way to get around: the bicycle (UCAR). The explosion also motivated British painter, J. M. W. Turner, to paint some of his most beautiful sunset landscapes (Rice). If a volcano erupted like Tambora again, the climate, of course, would be in deep trouble. Thankfully eruptions like that only happen once in every 1,000 years or so, and we aren’t due for one for a while.

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Rice, D. (2016). 200 years ago, we endured a ‘year without a summer’. USA Today. Retrieved from

UCAR. (2012). Mount Tambora and the year without a summer. University corporation for atmospheric research: Center for science education. Retrieved from

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