But something was happening far, far below that 14,100-foot peak. The Pacific Ocean plate was diving below the tectonic plate on which Sumbawa and the other Indonesian islands sat, and the rubbing together of the rocks was heating up the area, melting rocks, and sending magma up crevices.
The crater at the top of the peak (called a caldera) began to rumble. At one point, a dark cloud formed above the volcano.
The volcano had been dormant for hundreds and hundreds of years, but it looked like it was waking up. Sure enough, on this date in 1815, an eruption spit out ash and gas.
The people of the nearby village of Tambora—and the people of the island of Sumbawa—and even the people of the other Indonesian islands, hundreds of miles away—heard thunderous booms. Ash started to fall from the skies.
Five days later, the largest volcanic eruption in history shook Tambora-the- mountain and, sadly, eliminated Tambora-the-village.
The Tambora eruption was TEN TIMES more powerful than the more famous Krakatoa eruption of 1883!
|This chart compares the eruption of Tambora to |
three smaller but more famous eruptions:
Mt. Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii;
Krakatoa, also in Indonesia;
and Mount St. Helens, in Washington state.
On April 10, 1815, even the people on Sumatra island, more than 1,600 miles away (2,600 km), heard the sounds of the explosion. (Most thought at first that it was the sound of guns being fired.) Three columns of flame rose up from the mountain, which soon became covered with “liquid fire.” Pumice stones fell from the skies, followed by more volcanic ash. Some of the pumice was as large as 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter! Hot gas and rock flowed down all sides of the mountain and into the ocean.
And the ash fell. And fell. And fell some more.
Some of the tiniest particles of ash stayed high up in the atmosphere, and blew around in the wind currents, and blocked the sun. The next year, 1816, was called “The Year Without a Summer” in the United States and Europe, because the volcanic eruption put so much ash and sulfur into the atmosphere that more sunshine was reflected away from the Earth, back into space, and the temperatures dropped all over the world. This phenomenon is called a volcanic winter—and during this one, it snowed in Boston, Massachusetts, in July!
Like any global climate change, this volcanic winter caused hardship and death as some crops failed, some livestock died, and thousands of people starved.
Tambora is now called the Pompeii of the East because archaeologists have begun to excavate the lost culture of Tambora that had been buried by pyroclastic flows. The team of scientists had to cut through a “pavement” of pumice and hardened ash about 10 feet (3 m) thick!
Archaeologists have found bronze bowls, ceramic pots, iron tools, and other artifacts from the once-thriving village--exactly as they were almost 200 years ago.
Also on this date: