5.20.2010

Volcano notes

April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Ingolfur Juliusson)
April 17 and April 19, 2010. ├ľrvar Atli ├×orgeirsson

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went -and came, and brought no day,
....
....
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal; as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The Moon, their mistress, had expired before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perished! Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe!

In July of 1816, Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary's stepsister Claire, and Byron's physician, John Polidori, were spending their days indoors at the Diodati Villa, on a sojourn in Geneva, Switzerland. They were taking shelter from the inexplicable cold, "incessant rain" and mysterious fogs. "There was a celebrated dark day," Byron recalled, "on which the fowls went to roost at noon, and the candles were lighted as at midnight." Held captive by the weather, Mary drafted what would become her novel, Frankenstein, Dr. Polidori wrote The Vampyre, and Byron wrote "Darkness" (excerpt above), their creative energies sympathetic with the brooding elements.

Strange weather, lengthy periods of darkness and record-cold temperatures swept across Europe and North America that summer. Prolonged, brilliant sunsets and twilights were frequently seen. On June 6, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Nearly a foot of snow fell in Quebec City. Lake and river ice were reported as far south as Pennsylvania.The resulting crop failures and livestock loss forced up prices, created panic and produced famine in many parts of the world. Some historians point to the weather conditions in New York and the Northeast of 1816 and '17 as spurring an early westward migration.

1816, The Year Without Summer or the Poverty Year, it was later determined, was the result of a volcano, erupting the previous year, thousands of miles away.


On Wednesday, April 10, 1815, Mount Tambora, a volcano in the Dutch East Indies, thought to have been dormant for 5,000 years, had begun a series of eruptions. On April 15th the final and largest blast spewed sulphur dioxide nearly 27 miles into the stratosphere. The finer ash particles stayed in the atmosphere up to a few years causing global climate changes. The pyroclastic flow killed over 10,000 local people immediately and another 70,000 or more were killed on neighboring islands in the aftermath of tsunamis, ash blanketing and the resulting agricultural devastation. Tambora was the largest volcanic eruption in at least 1,600 years— ten times the size of Mt. Vesuvius

Decades later John Ruskin gave a lecture at the London Institute on another meteorological anomaly. In a semi-apocalyptic conflation of atmospheric and psychological disturbance, Ruskin railed about ominous clouds:
For the sky is covered with gray cloud;—not rain-cloud, but a dry black veil, which no ray of sunshine can pierce; partly diffused in mist, feeble mist, enough to make distant objects unintelligible, yet without any substance, or wreathing, or color of its own. And everywhere the leaves of the trees are shaking fitfully, as they do before a thunder-storm; only not violently, but enough to show the passing to and fro of a strange, bitter, blighting wind.... It is a wind of darkness...It is a malignant quality of wind, unconnected with any one quarter of the compass; it blows indifferently from all, attaching its own bitterness and malice to the worst characters of the proper winds of each quarter....
This was a year after the famous 1883 Krakatoa eruption. //

Following the August 27th Krakatoa eruption, artist William Ascroft documented eerily brilliant sunsets and other optical phenomena over England, attributed to the volcano's after-effects, until 1886. For a selection of his uncanny sketches, see the Science and Society Picture Library/
Twilight and after glow effects at Chelsea, London, Nov. 26, 1883

2 comments:

Sophie Munns said...

What a fascinating post Angela!
How did you stumble on these finds I'm wondering?
Something to ponder...
S

angela said...

Hi Sophie

I'd been interested in the atmospheric effects of volcanoes and knew something about the 1816 summer and Krakatoa aftermath already. In searching for more about that I got that wild collection of pastels from Ascroft.
The Iceland pics-- I really just kept searching until I found what I wanted!

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