Over the last 100 years, the mankind has grown accustomed to the fact that the climate as we know it is a natural state of things. It is not. Actually, the climatic conditions of the past century are, in terms of geological history, quite an anomaly. In the known history of mankind, there has never been such a prolonged period of favorable climate as we have experienced in the past four or five generations. And it will change again.
The Europe was going through the period called Little Ice Age, spanning from 16th to 19th century (some put the beginning to 13th century). The climate in Europe at that time was much colder from what we have known for many decades. So if you see a person sleeping with a cap on their head in a movie depicting this period, that is why. It was cold. It was so cold, that during the winter time the river Thames running through London would freeze all over, and the winter fairs took place on the ice every year.
Summers were not as hot as we have them now, but of course, the sun was shining and people worked in the fields as always. However, in 1816 the whole population of the western Europe and North America were surprised by the phenomenon they had not know until that time. The winter passed, spring as well and then no summer came.
In April of 1815, in the region of today’s Indonesia, there was a massive volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora. There were few smaller volcanic eruptions around that time, but none of them was as big as this one. The volcanic ash was thrown so high up into the atmosphere, that the rain could not take it back to earth. And so it moved in the stratosphere as one giant cloud all around the earth, and it kept the sun light from coming down to the surface as usual.
The average earth’s temperature dropped by 1°C. Heavy rains followed. The fields in China and Asia were flooded and crops destroyed, resulting in famine. However, it did not stop there. The effects of this eruption were felt both in Europe and North America soon after.
The same things followed in Europe: little sunshine, low temperatures, massive rainfalls destroying wheat, oats, potatoes; there was frost or even snow in the month of August (in Hungary, brown snow was reported, due to the ashes in the atmosphere). In North America they had it even worse. There was snow in July and August, birds froze in thousands, animals dying of starvation, etc. and, of course, it had huge social consequences.
The price of food skyrocketed in Europe. People could not afford to buy food, whole families were walking around, begging. Food riots erupted, especially in France they were very violent. In consequence of famine and malnourishment, typhus and other epidemics emerged in Ireland, Italy and other countries, killing dozens of thousands as the diseases spread around.
At the time, people did not know what caused these events. It was with the advancement of sciences and improvement of communication channels that we came to understand how a volcanic eruption at one part of the world can influence the weather conditions and thus lives of millions of people living some 11,000 kilometres away.
In light of this event, let us be a little bit thankful for our global warming because when the things turn round, we won’t need any sun cream for many summer to come.