"It proved a wet, ungenial summer and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house" - Mary Shelley, Author
Have you all read the novel Frankenstein? It is considered one of the first science fiction novels to be created. There is an interesting backstory as to under what circumstances the novel was written. As per the author’s accounts, the story was created during the weekend with friends in Geneva in 1816 where uncharacteristically the outside weather was wet with continuous rainfall, not a normal summer at all in Europe. Source info here
Subsequently, the year 1816 was tagged as the year without summer.
The impact of this year without summer was felt across the West as crops failed across the US and Europe due to the cold weather etc.
Which brings us to the question of what could have caused this? Are we prepared to face another year without summer? Knowing fully well that such an incident has happened in the past we have prepared ourselves with some strategies to face this problem.
This blog will delve into history and help us understand why the world faced such a catastrophe, what was the impact and what could be done in advance to prepare for this.
TAMBORA BLASTS OFF
"The peculiar horror of Tambora lies in its staggering and virtually incomprehensible death toll, a monstrous accumulation of statistics that will never yield its final secrets."- Gillen D'Arcy Wood, Author
Mount Tambora located on West Nusa Tenggara, formerly Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia was one of the most powerful volcanic explosions recorded in human history on April 10, 1815. The volcanic eruption was of extreme intensity, recorded on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) at 7. As in the case of every volcanic eruption, the heavier material fell into the nearby areas, and the lighter particles rose up to the stratosphere and created an aerosol cloud the size of Australia.
The eruption of Mount Tambora also tragically caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the nearby areas.
HOW TAMBORA IMPACTED GLOBAL WEATHER
Volcanic ash will be experienced in many locations far from the volcano itself, and ashfall may be accompanied by sulfur dioxide gas that can be particularly dangerous. - U.S. Geological Survey
Volcanic materials and gases generally go up high into the sky and reach the stratosphere. Tambora’s eruption launched volcanic rock and gases more than 40 km into the Stratosphere.
After Tambora erupted, a lot of larger ash particles, like volcanic dust, fell back to Earth in the first few weeks. However, smaller particles, such as water vapour, sulfur and fluorine gases, and fine ash, stayed up in the stratosphere. There, chemical reactions occurred, leading to the creation of a massive layer of sulfate aerosols weighing 100 megatons. Over the next few months, these tiny particles formed a widespread, cloud-like screen in the atmosphere, moving with the winds and global currents affecting the usual temperature and rainfall patterns in different parts of the world. Source: Tambora: The Eruption that changed the world by Gillen D’Arcy Wood by Princeton University Press
These light-coloured sulfate aerosols block incoming sunlight and cool the atmosphere. Mount Pinatubo’s enormous eruption in 1991 is a recent example. The sulfates from the eruption cooled the atmosphere by 0.7 to 0.9° F (0.4 to 0.5 °C) and made 1992 and 1993 the coolest years in the past 35 years. Source info here
Subsequently, Mount Tambora’s eruption caused a dramatic change in weather patterns due to the eruption.
This subsequent cooling of the earth’s atmosphere was a major factor in not having a year without summer.
IMPACT OF THE YEAR OF THE SUMMER
"In 1816, summer forgot to show up. It was the year that became known as the 'Year Without a Summer,' and people of that era witnessed unseasonable cold, crop failures, and a world transformed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora."
Impact on the US
The appealing climate of the eastern U.S. drew early European settlers, with its conducive conditions for successful farming due to spring rains and summer warmth.
However, in 1816, an extraordinary event occurred – summer failed to materialize in the New England states.
Devastating frost in May wreaked havoc on crops in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Unusual weather continued into June, with heavy snow covering the ground in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine.
The persistent cold disrupted the usual harvest season, lingering into late summer. In July, lakes and rivers froze as far south as northwestern Pennsylvania, and frost endured in Virginia until late August. Remarkably, these climatic anomalies were the consequence of a volcanic eruption on the opposite side of the world. Source info here
Impact on Europe
In Europe, the cold and damp summers yielded meagre harvests, playing a pivotal role in precipitating famine and ultimately culminating in a subsistence crisis in the Western world. Widespread malnutrition and diseases resulted in numerous fatalities and contributed to mass migrations, riots, as well as political and social upheavals.
Brönnimann S, Krämer D. 2016. Tambora and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816. A Perspective on Earth and Human Systems Science. Geographica Bernensia G90, 48 pp., doi:10.4480/GB2016.G90.01.
LESSONS FOR BUSINESS CONTINUITY AND RISK SCENARIOS
Analyzing historical data helps identify patterns and trends in various risk factors. This allows for a more accurate assessment of the likelihood and frequency of specific risks occurring in the future.
So, after seeing the above incident, can we say that the volcanic eruption is far away from me, it is not going to impact me? Well, history suggests that anything can be possible.
A scenario where global weather patterns are impacted by a single volcanic eruption is dangerous and as a business when thinking of a crisis scenario, we cannot ignore a volcano thousands of miles away and we need to incorporate such scenarios in our business continuity planning for ensuring we are prepared for the worst.
There is a need for innovative thinking to develop the best risk scenario to be prepared for any eventuality.
In Conclusion, finalizing a risk scenario should only be done after a careful study of possibilities and historical events. If we are not putting enough thought into the process, we might not be able to finalize an efficient risk scenario.
A volcanic eruption causing a change in weather patterns, doesn’t seem so far-fetched now, does it?
Gorisco has a wide range of experts who are experienced in defining and designing various solutions to help organizations mitigate their risks and resolve their problems.
At Gorisco, our motto is 'Embedding Resilience,’ and we are committed to making the organizations and their workforce resilient. Reach out to us if you have any queries, clarifications, or need any support on your initiatives.
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This image was taken by the NASA Expedition 20 crew., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.