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Tambora and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816. A Perspective on Earth and Human Systems Science

Type of publication Not peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Book (non peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2016
Author Brönnimann S., Krämer D.,
Project Future and Past Solar Influence on the Terrestrial Climate II
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Book (non peer-reviewed)

Publisher Geographica Bernensia , Bern
ISBN 978-3-905835-46-5
DOI 10.4480/GB2016.G90.01

Open Access


In April 1815, the volcano Tambora in Indonesia erupted, bringing immediate devastation to Sumbawa and the neighbouring islands. The impacts of this eruption were felt around the world for many months. In Europe and North America, 1816 became known as the “Year Without a Summer”, and far over 100,000 people died worldwide. With a certain amount of reserve, a tragic event may become an interesting one. Two hundred years later, in April 2015, numerous events and media reports around the world commemorated the bicentenary of the Tambora eruption. At least half a dozen Tambora books appeared in the years 2013 to 2015, placing the 1815 event as a landmark in the history of mankind. The extensive public attention garnered by these reports demonstrates how interesting this event remains for today’s society. Furthermore the topic has an ongoing relevance for science. Many studies and review papers have been published in the last few months, and in April 2015, an international scienti c conference organized by the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR) of the University of Bern was held to shed light on the many interlinked aspects of the Tambora eruption. The Tambora event is fascinating because it demonstrates how closely the Earth and human systems are connected. While the scienti c interest evolves from many specific scientific questions at various interfaces within this system, it is also the “big picture” that matters. The bicentenary of the Tambora eruption 2015 was an opportunity to review our current understanding of the numerous aspects. In this process, the big picture slowly emerges. Now, for the bicentenary of the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816, the picture has become much clearer. The aim of this booklet is to draw this picture and deliver a synthesis of the Tambora eruption and the “Year Without a Summer”. Such an undertaking is necessarily incomplete and only possible with a specific perspective. Here we focus on the perspective from Switzerland. Tambora and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816 have close links to Switzerland. Switzerland was among the most severely affected regions: severe famine cost countless lives and desperation might have been a trigger for migration. Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” during that rainy and cold summer in Switzerland. The Swiss botanist Heinrich Zollinger was the first to climb Mt. Tambora in 1847 and his report on the 1815 eruption was widely circulated. Ever since 1816, Swiss science took on a leading role in studying the Tambora eruption and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816; from the first scientific studies on the cold climate in the Alps to the present activities of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR) at the University of Bern. This publication was supported by the OCCR and the commission for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP) of the Swiss Academy of Sciences SCNAT. It is the outcome of a conference supported by these two institutions as well as the Swiss National Science Foundation, the international programmes PAGES (Past Global Changes) and SPARC (Stratospheric and Tropospheric Processes and their Role in Climate), and the Fondation Johanna Durmuller-Bol.1 We wish to thank all OCCR affiliated and other researchers who have helped in creating this booklet, particularly Florian Arfeuille, Renate Auchmann, Mauro Bolzern, Philip Brohan, Yuri Brugnara, Ulf Buntgen, Lucien Chabey, Mike Chenoweth, Gilbert Compo, Celine Dizerens, Hubertus Fischer, Simon Fluckiger, David Frank, Jorg Franke, Jurg Fuhrer, Alena Giesche, Martin Grosjean, Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn, Alexander Hermann, Annelie Holzkamper, Gerhard Hotz, Fortunat Joos, Abdul Malik, Stefan Muthers, Christian P ster, Christian Rohr, Karin Schleifer-Stockli, Margit Schwikowski, Steve Self, Peter Schulthess, Michael Sigl, Willy Tinner, Leonie Villiger, Martin Wegmann, and Helmut Weissert. We also thank all participants of the Bern Conference in April 2015.