The summers that never arrived


At the beginning of the first century of contemporary age (1800-1816), the planet was characterized by a great political instability. While Europe was slowly recovering from the Napoleonic wars that had been completed only a year earlier, in Latin America the Spanish Independence War made most of the colonies independent of Spain. In Europe after years of desperation and destruction people he expected better times, but the coming summer was rainy and cold, crops did not produce fruits hunger and disease were the consequences.

These environmental conditions also occurred in the northeastern United States, with stormy temperatures, snow storms and frost in the middle of summer. The strange behavior of the time was unexplainable, for the most superstitious one year in which one had to look behind his shoulders as it was leap and began on Monday. No one could imagine that the causes of unusual meteorological phenomena were the result of a series of unusual circumstances, many of which located on the opposite side of the planet.

Indeed, between 1809 and 1816, a series of volcanic eruptions (with VEI volatility at least four of a scale of 1 to 8) had mainly characterized the Indo-Australe plaque. The first one of 1808/1809 known as “the eruption of the mystery” of which you have very little news, was most likely in the Pacific Ocean. The geographic area where presumably the eruption has occurred is very large; and extends from Indonesia to Tonga, where no stable European settlements existed in those years, except for some missionaries in Thaïti. In addition, the various oral reports of eruptions between indigenous populations in these areas can not be dated with certainty as there are hundreds of volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean, many of which are sunk beneath the ocean over the years . Subsequently, as many eruptive eruptions (1812 Soufrière in the Caribbean and Awu Netherlands Antilles, 1813 Suwanosejima in Japan, 1814 Mayon Philippines) spread a considerable amount of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

In 1815, the Tambora volcano in Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, with an estimated height of 4,000m, exploded with a catastrophic VEI 7 intensity eruption. During the eruption, the Tambora lost 1,300 meters of mountain, catapulting two million tons of debris, sulfur particles and heavy gases in the upper layers of the atmosphere and causing 70,000 deaths. These sprays reduced solar radiation to the surface of the earth and influenced the planet’s warming, furthermore, the weak monsoon passage weakened the northern branch of atmospheric circulation, altering it on the Atlantic-European area and increasing precipitation in Europe. In addition to frequent volcanic eruptions, the decrease in the planetary temperatures of that period was aggravated by the “small glacial ice age”, whose ice advancement ended only in 1850. Also during the same period coincided with a phenomenon called “minimal Dalton”, a cycle of low solar activity where ground temperatures were below average. Data on the meteorological situation in Switzerland indicate that they were recorded from 18 to 28 days of rain in the months between April and September, with temperatures up to 6 degrees below average. The humid and cold weather caused a great famine, and many people in despair were forced to eat grass or domestic flesh. This agricultural disaster has also been termed “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world”.

A pastor of the city of St. Gallen, eastern Switzerland, described the suffering experienced in the most vulnerable families in this region, which prompted a girl to deliver a sack containing 25 gulden (today about 4,400 Swiss francs) along with a note stating: “My money for the poor. Jesus can bless this little gift.” His act, mentioned in the next ministry’s sermon, triggered a wave of charitable donation that led to so many donations that the pastor had to hire a man with a donkey to distribute the gifts to the poor.

However, in Scandinavia and the Northern Baltic region, crops were almost normal, in Eastern Europe and western Russia the impacts were so low that the Russian Emperor Alexander I was able to provide grain to western Europe with monetary donations . The lack of fodder and the consequent fate of horses used to feed people because of famine, probably inspired the aristocratic German Karl Drais, to look for new modes of transport without horses, which led to the invention of draisina, the prototype of the modern bicycle.

Similarly to what happened in the first two decades of the 1800s, there were two other very important events on the planetary climatological plane. The first occurred about 400 years before the eruption of the Tambora, caused by a volcano probably located in Vanuatu (Kuwae), held responsible for a series of climatic anomalies that ravaged the Aztec civilization with a long famine. At the same time, in Europe lakes chilled with fish, and in China there were incessant anomalous snowfalls in the Jiangnan region. The second episode recorded around 535 AD, where the main suspect could be the Krakatoa volcano, which as a result of its violent eruption devastated the life of the Javanese people. Even the local historiographical tradition of Java was interrupted, otherwise very rich; that less than a fifth of the eighteen years after 535 presents some news. The effects of this eruption were recorded in the two most evolved states of the time: the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire. Of these climatic imbalances remains only in the words of those who have lived them:

According to the words of the Javanese historian Ranggawarsita: “the whole world was shaken from its foundations, and violent roar of thunder unleashed accompanied by heavy rains and tremendous storms.

The historian Romano Flavio Magno Aurelio Cassiodoro described the following: “The sun seems to have lost its brightness, and appears a bluish color. We marvel not to see the shadow of our bodies, to feel the strength of the sun’s heat transformed into weakness, and the phenomena that normally accompany an eclipse prolonged for almost a whole year. We had a summer without heat.

It should be recognized that the adverse climate observed in the years around 535 AD is considered an event capable of explaining at least a good part, the fall of economic and social structures from the Greco-Roman antiquity in the Mediterranean basin. Many historians consider the plague the last scourge that drowned on the dying Roman Empire, already lifeless for the loss of power and political influence following the defeats inflicted by the barbarian armies. Researchers using the data collected from the cores collected in Antarctica, are able to provide only information on the sequence of these types of climatic phenomena, but not on its dating. With the tools at hand for scholars remains a puzzle too difficult to solve. The culprits of these catastrophes, most likely over the years have vanished at the bottom of the oceans. The mystery could remain unresolved forever.

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8 thoughts on “The summers that never arrived

  1. During this Summer that Never Arrived, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont and John William Polidori, in Villa Diodati (Geneva) created some spooky stories. Two of them were printed: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Polidori’s Vampyre!

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