The history of the planet's biggest volcanic explosions - deep in the ice of Antarctica
Scientists have been able to trace the history of volcanic eruptions over the last 2,000 years by analysing deposits of sulphate dust in a series of ice cores drilled deep into the West Antarctic ice sheet
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Sunday 06 July 2014
Some of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the last 2,000 years have left their indelible mark deep within the pristine ice sheet of the Antarctic, a study has found.
Scientists have been able to trace the most complete history of volcanic eruptions since the birth of Christ by analysing deposits of sulphate dust in a series of ice cores drilled deep into the West Antarctic ice sheet.
The time series from 26 separate ice cores drilled out from 19 different sites shows that there were 116 volcanic eruptions in the past two millennia that were big enough to result in plumes of volcanic sulphate dust being transported as far as the South Pole.
Most the eruptions cannot be identified, however the biggest, in 1257, was already hinted at from medieval chronicles and tree rings. Scientists identified the sulphate deposits as coming from the Samalas volcano on Lombok Island of Indonesia.
The third biggest eruption, according to the ice cores, was Tambora in Indonesia, which exploded in 1815 and caused the “year without a summer” in 1816 as a result of volcanic dust in the atmosphere cutting out sunlight and lowering summer temperatures around the world. The atmospheric dust created spectacular sunsets, which were captured by the artist William Turner, and the prolonged summer rainfall forced Mary Shelley indoors where she wrote her most famous literary work, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
The second largest eruption in terms of sulphate deposits found in the Antarctic ice cores was the explosion of the Kuwae caldera near the Pacific island of Vanuatu, which erupted in 1458. Local folklore passed on through the generations described the near total destruction of the island leaving several dead and causing many others to flee to nearby islands. The volcanic record will be used to assess the impact that volcanoes have had on the recent past in terms of affecting global temperatures, which are depressed for several years as a result of volcanic dust in the upper atmosphere reducing sunlight and causing other weather disturbances such as prolonged rainfall.
“This record provides the basis of a dramatic improvement in existing reconstructions of volcanic emissions during recent centuries and millennia,” said Michael Sigl of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Among the top 10 eruptions were three that occurred respectively in 531, 566 and 674.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...
£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...
£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...