Book: Tambora


A new book warns that geophysical catastrophes can have geopolitical ramifications. 


NON FICTION
Tambora: The eruption that changed the world
By Gillen D’Arcy Wood
Princeton University Press (2014)
RRP $55.00

If the name Tambora does not ring a bell, the “year without summer” may. The year in question was 1816 when global temperatures fell by nearly 1°C, bringing major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

The cause was the combination of naturally occurring weather anomalies and the massive volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora on 11 April, 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.

While Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, is better known, Tambora’s explosion was – and remains – one of the most violent the world has seen. It blasted 1,220 metres off the top of the peak, leaving a caldera up to seven kilometres wide.

A shopkeeper in the village of Tambora, displays artefacts buried by the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora. – Adam Majendie/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The plume of ash fired into the atmosphere reflected the Sun’s rays and caused dramatic temperature drops, ruining crops from China to the United States and Europe. The apocalyptic weather formed the backdrop to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written that year, and caused philosophers in Europe to ponder more gloomily on mankind’s fate.

English professor Wood is not the first to write of this cataclysm, but his book is one of the best written and most thought-provoking. It shows clearly how interconnected our world is and how geological and weather events can have profound effects on more than crops and global ecosystems.

Tambora had resounding geopolitical and financial implications. Food for thought as we face the coming decades of climate change upheavals.

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Bill Condie is head of publishing at The Royal Institution of Australia and former publisher of Cosmos.
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