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On This Day: the Laki eruption begins, 1783 8 June 2011

Posted by admin in anniversaries, Iceland, Laki, on this day.
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On This Day: 8 June 1783On 8 June 1783 a fissure eruption began across the flanks of the Laki volcanic mountain ridge in south-eastern Iceland. The Laki (or Lakagígar) eruption lasted until 8 February 1784: approximately 27 km of fissures ultimately opened, and 14.7 cubic kilometres of lava were erupted. This was a huge volume of material, but the lava did not itself directly cause any deaths. Much more deadly were the gas emissions (PDF) produced by the eruption. The Laki eruption released vast quantities of gas into the atmosphere: the majority was water vapour, but an estimated 10% is thought to have been composed of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and fluorine. A dry fog hung over Iceland, the North Atlantic and parts of adjacent land masses for weeks. The 50 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide combined with atmospheric water vapour to form sulphuric acid aerosols, and the resulting acid rain poisoned the soil and destroyed the grazing upon which Iceland’s livestock depended. Animals died in their tens of thousands, and the people followed: by the end of 1785 over 10,000 people had died, perhaps one-fifth of Iceland’s population, 9 out of 10 from famine. Nor were the effects limited to Iceland: the acidic haze erupted from Laki spread to Britain, Ireland and continental Europe, bringing fogs, acid rain, violently disturbed weather patterns and unseasonable temperatures, leading to damaged vegetation, failed harvests, hunger and poverty (in these circumstances, the French Revolution was inevitable). Beyond Europe, populations as far afield as North America, Egypt and Japan may have suffered the meteorological and economic consequences of the seven-month Laki eruption.

UPDATE. More on Laki 1783 from the fascinating History of Geology blog: 8 June 1783: the Laki eruptions.

The Volcanism Blog


Some recent volcano-related articles 20 December 2007

Posted by admin in Alaska, Iceland, Indonesia, Laki, Novarupta, volcano culture, volcanology.
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Some interesting recent open-access articles of volcanological interest: National Geographic Magazine looks at the place of volcanoes in Indonesian culture, The Economist explores the climate effects of the Laki eruption of 1783, and Geology.com has an account of the 1912 Novarupta eruption.

Volcano CultureNational Geographic Magazine (January 2008)
‘On a less earthly plane, volcanoes stand at the heart of a complicated set of mystical beliefs that grip millions of Indonesians and influence events in unexpected ways. Their peaks attract holy men and pilgrims. Their eruptions augur political change and social upheaval. You might say that in Indonesia, volcanoes are a cultural cauldron in which mysticism, modern life, Islam, and other religions mix—or don’t. Indonesia, an assemblage of races, religions, and tongues, is riveted together by volcanoes. Reverence for them is virtually a national trait.’ Read on >>

18th-century climate change: the summer of acid rainThe Economist (19 December 2007)
‘In Europe, the summer of 1783 had been unusually warm, the warmest recorded in England before 1995. White called the season “an amazing and portentous one, full of horrible phenomena”, and complained of the abnormal number of wasps. The heat may have been a short-term greenhouse-gas effect from high concentrations of sulphur dioxide. … At the time, some people suspected the volcano might be to blame. Benjamin Franklin, then America’s ambassador to Paris, wrote to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester that “[the sun’s] effect of heating the Earth was exceedingly diminished. Hence the surface was early frozen. Hence the first snows remained on it unmelted. Hence the air was more chilled. Hence perhaps the winter of 1783-84 was more severe than any that had happened for many years.” In speculating upon the cause, he wondered “whether it was the vast quantity of smoke, long continuing to issue during the summer from Hecla in Iceland [near Laki]”. It was.’ Read on >>

The most powerful volcanic eruption of the twentieth century – Geology.com (12 December 2007)
‘On June 6th, 1912 a tremendous blast sent a large cloud of ash skyward and the eruption of the century was underway. People in Juneau, Alaska, about 750 miles from the volcano, heard the sound of the blast – over one hour after it occurred. For the next 60 hours the eruption sent tall dark columns of tephra and gas high into the atmosphere. By the time the eruption ended the surrounding land was devastated and about 30 cubic kilometers of ejecta blanketed the entire region. This is more ejecta than all of the other historic Alaska eruptions combined. It was also thirty times more than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and three times more than the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the second largest in the 20th Century.’ Read on >>

The Volcanism Blog