On This Day In History – April 10

The most recent massive volcanic eruption in recorded history.


Katie Whelan, Staff Writer

April 10th, 1815

208 years ago, three columns of fire shot from the little-known volcano, Mount Tambora in on the island of Sumbawa, present-day Indonesia. A plume of smoke and gas shot 25 miles into the sky. The forceful wind uprooted trees. Pyroclastic flows spilled down the slopes at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, destroying everything in their path and pouring into the sea 25 miles away, causing explosions of hot steam. For weeks, ash fell across the region. The ash that covered the island up to 5 feet thick collapsed roofs hundreds of miles away. So much ash was expelled that the sun was not seen for several days. Even the most powerful explosions could be heard for thousands of miles, and were initially misinterpreted as gunfire.

Today, scientists widely believe that these volcanic gases in the atmosphere were the primary cause of the “year without a summer” in 1816, which is proof that Tambora’s eruptions had a global impact on the climate. The year without a summer was characterized by snow and frost that fell in many parts of the world, most notably in New England during June and July. Unseasonably cold weather killed trees, rice, and even water buffalo in China and Tibet. Floods destroyed any crops that survived. It rained nonstop for eight weeks in Ireland, and the potato crop failed. Famine ensued.

The eruptions directly killed ten thousand people, the majority of whom were on Sumbawa Island. Over the next few months, more than 80,000 people died of starvation in the surrounding area as a result of crop failures and disease.