Impact of the Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815 on islands and relevance to future sunlight-blocking catastrophes

Paper by Nick Wilson, Veronika Valler, Mike Cassidy, Matt Boyd, Lara Mani, Stefan Brönnimann
Published on 07 March 2023


Island nations may have potential long-term survival value for humanity in global catastrophes such as sun-blocking catastrophes from nuclear winter and large magnitude volcanic eruptions. One way to explore this issue further is to understand the impact on islands after the largest historically observed volcanic eruption: that of Mt Tambora in 1815. For each of the 31 large, populated islands selected, we conducted literature searches for relevant historical and palaeoclimate studies. We also analysed results from a reconstruction (EKF400v2), which uses atmospheric-only general circulation model simulations with assimilated observational and proxy data. From the literature review, there was widespread evidence for weather/climate anomalies in 1815–1817 for these islands (29/29 for those with data). But missing data was an issue for other dimensions such as impaired food production (seen in 8 islands out of only 12 with data). Based on the EKF400v2 reconstruction for temperature anomalies (compared to the relatively “non-volcanic” reference period of 1779 to 1808), the islands had lower temperature anomalies in the 1815–1818 period than latitudinally equivalent continental sites (at 100 km and 1000 km inland). This was statistically significant for the great majority of the comparisons for group analyses by hemisphere, oceans, and temperate/tropical zone. When considering just the islands, all but four showed statistically anomalous temperature reductions in the 1816–1817 period (for most p < 0.00001). In the peak impact year of 1816, the lowest anomalies were seen for islands in the Southern Hemisphere (p < 0.0001), the Indian Ocean (p < 0.0001), and in the tropics and subtropics of the Southern Hemisphere (p = 0.0057). In conclusion, the findings of both the literature review and reconstruction simulations suggest climatic impacts of the Tambora eruption for nearly all these 31 large islands, albeit less than for continental sites. Islands with the smallest temperature anomalies were in the Southern Hemisphere, in particular the Indian Ocean and the tropics and subtropics of the Southern Hemisphere.

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