World's Largest Volcanic Eruption

August 18 2015

“Tambora Volcano, Indonesia, 1815:  World’s largest and deadliest eruption in recorded history”.

Presented by Robert I. Tilling, Volcanologist Emeritus, U.S. Geological Survey.)

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In April 1815, Tambora Volcano, on the Island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, blew its top in a gigantic explosion, producing the world’s most powerful, and deadliest, eruption in historical times.  This catastrophic event erupted more than 160 km3 of volcanic debris, including high-velocity pyroclastic flows and surges, that directly claimed at least 60,000 lives in the immediate area.  In addition, over the next several years, this eruption also indirectly killed several hundreds of thousands people around the world because of famine and disease resulting from global cooling and other weather changes.  The year 1816 has been widely remembered as ”The Year Without A Summer.”

This presentation comemmorates the 200th Anniversary of this cataclysmic eruption with a showing of the 50-minute movie ”The Year Without Summer,” produced in 2004.  This film—a Finalist, Best Earth Sciences Award, at the 2005 Jackson Wildlife Film Festival—dramatically captures the devastating local and global consequences of the 1815 Tambora eruption.  The movie documents the efforts of a scientific team, headed by renowned volcanologist Dr. Haraldur Sigurdsson (University of Rhode Island), to search for the remains of the ”Lost Kingdom” of Tambora buried under volcanic deposits.

Bob Tilling will begin the presentation with some introductory remarks to provide context for the film, after which he will review briefly some aspects of the eruption not highlighted in the movie.  While the 1815 Tambora eruption was a volcanic mega-disaster, it is dwarfed in size by more powerful eruptions in the recent geologic past.  Fortunately however, to date humankind has been spared death and destruction from a monster ”super-eruption,” but we should not take much solace from this fact.  There is no geologic basis to rule out the possible occurrence of a truly cataclysmic volcanic outburst—somewhere, some time—in the future.