Disasters: Mount Tambora, 1815

When you think of some of the most world-changing events you would normally put the trigger on large wars or mass migrations and revolutions but one of the most world-changing events was neither of these. This event was the eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano in Indonesia, which caused famines, hunger, and the spread of diseases not only in Indonesia but also in Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

On the tenth of April, 1815 one hundred seventy-five cubic kilometers of ash and debris were blasted into Sumbaya which is a relatively small island in Central Indonesia. Seventy thousand people perished directly from the blast but thousands more perished as a result of widespread famines and disease that took hold on all continents in the coming years. The eruption lasted only three days but was one of the most devastating since the eruption of Crater Lake in Oregon seven thousand years ago.

There hadn’t been a volcano of that magnitude in the 20th century and the largest volcanic eruption of the last century was only a third of the size of Tambora. Before the eruption, Mount Tambora was fourteen thousand feet tall and about the size of Mount Rainier. After the 1815 eruption, Mount Tambora formed a caldera which sunk about one and one-half kilometers into the ground.

A study conducted by the Oregon State University estimates that ash fell as far as nine hundred kilometers from Sumbaya and one centimeter of ash fell in central Java and Kalimantan. Eighty-two thousand people died indirectly as a result of the volcano which will always be remembered as one of the worst tragedies in mankind’s history.

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