Tambora, the lost summer and the hobby horse

Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day Lord Byron, Darkness, 1816 The world has changed. It is not something we normally notice – change is slow and memory surprisingly selective. Nothing has altered but everything’s changed, as the song says, paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre. We have little idea of how our parents…

Prelude to Krakatau. III

In Part 1 and Part II we went over the current state of Krakatau and its history over the 300 years before the Big One. Now it is time to find out what caused the Big Bang, whether it is a recurrent offence, and to try our hand at the big question: why is such…

Prelude to Krakatau. II

In part I, we discussed the geology and current state of Krakatau. Now it is time to look at events before the Big Eruption. Was it hiding in the shadows, or did it make its intentions clear to all? History For centuries before its destruction, Krakatau was a familiar landmark. At least some of the…

Prelude to Krakatau. I

All eruptions have history. Volcanoes may sometimes appear to erupt out of the blue; the mountain may not even have been recognized as a volcano, before blowing up. But the unexpectedness stems from our lack of knowledge. In the case of monogenetic volcanoes, which only erupt once, the volcanologist will recognize from the cones in…

536: apocalypse

The legend of the horsemen of the apocalypse goes back to the first century AD. It is a gripping image, which has transcended cultures. The best-known of the horsemen is Death, riding an ashen-coloured horse. This is the only one given a name in the original. One horseman, riding a black horse, brings famine, making…

The rise and fall of Anak Krakatau

It was the largest volcanic eruption since the start of the world-wide web. The invention of telegraphy in the 1850’s had made long distance connections instantaneous. It changed the world. Newspapers were the most obvious beneficiaries, being able to bring gossip news from far away places. And in this landscape, Krakatau exploded. 36,000 people died…

The Kazbek disaster: a cryoclastic debris flow

What makes a volcano dangerous? Clearly, the severity of any eruption plays a role. So does the presence of people nearby. But it is not always the best known volcanoes that are the most dangerous. Tseax is hardly world-renowned, but it caused a major volcanic disaster in Canada. And sometimes a volcano can be dangerous…

El Chichon

  Each century its own. The 19th century was owned by Krakatoa and Tambora. (The mystery volcano of 1808/09 should probably be added to make it a list of three, but it is hard to credit the unknown.) The 20th century was the century of Pinatubo (1991) and Mount St Helens (1980). There were other…

The eruptive past of Indonesia

Gunug Agung has had impressive eruptions in the past week. So far, in spite of the publicity, the event has remained relatively minor. We do not know whether these are the initial rumblings and in the next weeks and months there will be far larger explosions, or that this suffices to relieve the pressure inside…

History of Öræfajökull

Iceland has ice. Glaciers cover 10% of its landscape, including its highest volcanoes. Of its frequent eruptors, only Hekla is (almost) ice free. Katla, Bardarbunga, and Grimsvötn, which together account for the large majority of eruptions, are all hidden underneath ice sheets, which gives problems studying the volcanoes themselves. But a more serious issue is…