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The environmental impact of the 1815 Tambora eruption in 2015

Jessica kandlbauer

Nationality Swiss

Year of selection 2009

Institution University of Bristol

Country United Kingdom

Risk Environment


3 years

120000 €


The year 1816 was known as “the year without summer.” On April 5, 1815, the Tambora volcano located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia suddenly erupted with a resounding detonation that could be heard 1,400 km away. This already massive eruption was nothing compared to what came 5 days later in what would become the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Over 100 km3 of pulverized rock was ejected into the atmosphere in an explosion 52,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bombing, killing at least 60,000 people.
As a result, not only did the mountain go from a height of 4,300 m to 2,850 m, but CO2 was released into the atmosphere in such quantities that it impacted the climate on a global scale. In 1816, several regions of the world experienced a climatic shift, with a temperature drop of a few degrees Celsius, impacting agriculture to such an extent that it caused famine and disease in Europe.
What if such an eruption were to happen in our modern society? This is the question Jessica Kandlbauer is trying to answer through her PhD at the University of Bristol. In order to do so, Kandlbauer is conducting a four-phase research project. First, she investigated historical documents and contemporary literature in order to reconstruct the Tambora eruption. Then, she focused on the volcanology aspect, studying how particles are formed and spread in the air. This will allow Kandlbauer to assess the climate reaction in case a Tambora-style eruption were to happen today. However, she is going beyond the environmental aspect by also examining the socioeconomic aspect of such a disaster.
Do you remember the suspension of all air traffic across Europe due to the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption? This time the situation would be even more problematic in terms of population evacuation, sanitary issues, migratory flows as well as the economic cost of the disaster. Thanks to her research, Kandlbauer aims to develop a model not only of what would happen, but also of what could be planned in order to limit both human casualties and the socioeconomic impact if the Black Swan were to erupt once again.
The main purpose of this research project is to investigate the environmental consequences if an 1815 Tambora-style eruption were to happen today. The project is divided in four main phases, including the synthesis of historical documents and contemporary literature, the volcanological analysis of Tambora ash samples, modelling the global climate response of a possible Tambora eruption today with seasonal variability, and finally the evaluation of the volcanic hazard and vulnerability to assess the environmental and socio-economic impact in SE Asia.

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