Sumbawa topography where Tambora's caldera is visible at the northern peninsula.
|Elevation||2,850 meters (9,350 ft)|
|Location||Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia|
|Geographic coordinates||8°15′S 118°0′E|
Mount Tambora (or Tomboro) is an active stratovolcano on Sumbawa island, Indonesia. Sumbawa is flanked both to the north and south by oceanic crust, and Tambora was formed by the active subduction zones beneath it. This raised Mount Tambora as high as 4,300 m (14,000 ft), making it one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago, and drained off a large magma chamber inside the mountain. It took centuries to refill the magma chamber; its volcanic activity reaching its peak in April 1815.
Tambora erupted in 1815 with a rating of seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index; the largest eruption since the Lake Taupo eruption in 181 C.E.. The explosion was heard on Sumatra island (more than 2,000 km or 1,200 mi away). Heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java and Maluku islands. The death toll was at least 71,000 people, of which 11,000–12,000 were killed directly by the eruption. The eruption created global climate anomalies. Because of the eruption's effect on both North American and European weather, 1816 became known as the Year Without a Summer. Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine of the nineteenth century.
During an excavation in 2004, a team of archaeologists discovered cultural remains buried by the 1815 eruption. They were kept intact beneath the 3 m (10 ft) deep pyroclastic deposits. Dubbed the Pompeii of the East, the artifacts were preserved in the positions they had occupied in 1815.
Mount Tambora is located on Sumbawa island, part of the Lesser Sunda Islands. It is a segment of the Sunda Arc, a string of volcanic islands that form the southern chain of the Indonesian archipelago. Tambora forms its own peninsula on Sumbawa, known as the Sanggar peninsula. At the north of the peninsula is the Flores Sea, and at the south is the 86 km (53.5 mi) long and 36 km (22 mi) wide Saleh Bay. At the mouth of Saleh Bay there is an islet called Mojo.
Besides the seismologists and vulcanologists who monitor the mountain's activity, Mount Tambora is an area of scientific studies for archaeologists and biologists. The mountain also attracts tourists for hiking and wildlife activities. The two nearest cities are Dompu and Bima. There are three concentrations of villages around the mountain slope. At the east is Sanggar village, to the northwest are Doro Peti and Pesanggrahan villages, and to the west is Calabai village.
Tambora lies 340 km (211 mi) north of the Java Trench system and 180–190 km (112–118 mi) above the upper surface of the active north-dipping subduction zone. Sumbawa island is flanked to both the north and south by the oceanic crust. The convergence rate is 7.8 cm/year (3 in/year). The existence of Tambora is estimated to have begun around 57 ka BP. Its ascent has drained off a large magma chamber inside the mountain. The Mojo islet was formed as part of this geological process in which Saleh Bay first appeared as a sea basin.
According to a geological survey, a high volcanic cone with a single central vent was formed before the 1815 eruption, which follows a stratovolcano shape. The diameter at the base is 60 km (37 mi). The central vent emitted lava frequently, which cascaded down a steep slope.
Since the 1815 eruption, the lowermost portion contains deposits of interlayered sequences of lava and pyroclastic materials. Approximately 40 percent of the layers are represented in the 1–4 m (3.3–13.1 ft) thick lava flows. Thick scoria beds were produced by the fragmentation of lava flows. Within the upper section, the lava is interbedded with scoria, tuffs and pyroclastic flows and falls.
Using radiocarbon dating technique, it has been established that Mount Tambora had erupted three times before the 1815 eruption, but the magnitudes of these eruptions are unknown. Their estimated dates are 3910 B.C.E. ± 200 years, 3050 B.C.E. and 740 C.E. ± 150 years. They all shared similar eruptive characteristics: central vent eruption and explosive eruption, except the lattermost eruption had no pyroclastic flows.
In 1812, Mount Tambora became highly active, with its eruptive peak in April 1815. The magnitude was seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) scale, with a total tephra ejecta volume of 1.6 × 1011 cubic metres. Its eruptive characteristics included central vent and explosive eruptions, pyroclastic flows, fatalities, land and property damage, tsunamis and caldera collapse. It created a long-term effect on global climate. This activity ceased on July 15, 1815. Around 1880 ± 30 years, Tambora went into eruption again, but only inside the caldera. It created small lava flows and lava dome extrusions; this was recorded at two on the VEI scale. This eruption created the Doro Api Toi parasitic cone inside the caldera.
Mount Tambora is still active. Minor lava domes and flows have been extruded on the caldera floor during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The last eruption was recorded in 1967. However, it was a very small eruption with scale zero on the VEI, meaning it was a non-explosive type of eruption.
Chronology of the eruption
Mount Tambora experienced several centuries of inactivity before 1815, known as dormancy, as the result of the gradual cooling of hydrous magma in a closed magma chamber. Inside the chamber at depths between 1.5–4.5 km (5,000–15,000 ft), the exsolution of a high pressure magma fluid formed during cooling and crystallization of the magma.
In 1812, the caldera began to rumble and generated a dark cloud. On April 5, 1815, a moderate-sized eruption occurred, followed by thunderous detonation sounds. On the morning of April 6, volcanic ash began to fall in East Java with faint detonation sounds lasting until April 10th. What was first thought to be sound of firing guns was heard on April 10th and 11th on Sumatra island (more than 2,600 km or 1,615 mi away).
At about 7 p.m. on April 10, the eruptions intensified. Three columns of flame rose and merged. The whole mountain was turned into a flowing mass of "liquid fire." Pumice stones of up to 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter began to rain down at approximately 8 p.m., followed by ash at around 9–10 p.m. Hot pyroclastic flows cascaded down the mountain to the sea on all sides of the peninsula, wiping out the village of Tambora. Loud explosions were heard until the next evening, April 11th. The ash veil had spread as far as West Java and South Sulawesi. A "nitrous" odor was noticeable in Jakarta and heavy tephra-tinged rain fell, finally receding between April 11 - 17.
The first explosions were heard on this Island in the evening of the 5th of April, they were noticed in every quarter, and continued at intervals until the following day. The noise was, in the first instance, almost universally attributed to distant cannon; so much so, that a detachment of troops were marched from Djocjocarta, in the expectation that a neighbouring post was attacked, and along the coast boats were in two instances dispatched in quest of a supposed ship in distress.
—Sir Thomas Raffles' memoir.
The explosion is estimated to have been at scale seven on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. It had roughly four times the energy of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption. An estimated 100 km³ (38.6 mi³) of pyroclastic trachyandesite was ejected, weighing approximately 1.4×1014 kg. This has left a caldera measuring 6–7 km (4–5 mi) across and 600–700 m (2,000–2,300 ft) deep. The density of fallen ash in Makassar was 636 kg/m². Before the explosion, Mount Tambora was approximately 4,300 m (14,000 ft) high, one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago. After the explosion, it now measures only 2,851 m (9,300 ft).
The 1815 Tambora eruption is the largest observed eruption in recorded history (see Table I, for comparison). The explosion was heard 2,600 km (1,600 mi) away, and ash fell at least 1,300 km (800 mi) away. A pitch of darkness was observed as far away as 600 km (370 mi) from the mountain summit for up to two days. Pyroclastic flows spread at least 20 km (12.5 mi) from the summit.
All vegetation on the island was destroyed. Uprooted trees, mixed with pumice ash, washed into the sea and formed rafts of up to 5 km (3 mi) across. One pumice raft was found in the Indian Ocean, near Calcutta on October 1st and 3rd 1815. Clouds of thick ash still covered the summit on April 23rd. Explosions ceased on July 15th, although smoke emissions were still observed as late as August 23rd. Flames and rumbling aftershocks were reported in August 1819, four years after the event.
On my trip towards the western part of the island, I passed through nearly the whole of Dompo and a considerable part of Bima. The extreme misery to which the inhabitants have been reduced is shocking to behold. There were still on the road side the remains of several corpses, and the marks of where many others had been interred: the villages almost entirely deserted and the houses fallen down, the surviving inhabitants having dispersed in search of food.
Since the eruption, a violent diarrhoea has prevailed in Bima, Dompo, and Sang’ir, which has carried off a great number of people. It is supposed by the natives to have been caused by drinking water which has been impregnated with ashes; and horses have also died, in great numbers, from a similar complaint.
—Lt. Philips, ordered by Sir Stamford Raffles to go to Sumbawa.
A moderate-sized tsunami struck the shores of various islands in the Indonesian archipelago on April 10th, with a height of up to 4 m (13 ft) in Sanggar at around 10 p.m. A tsunami of 1–2 m (3–6 ft) in height was reported in Besuki, East Java, before midnight, and one of 2 m (6 ft) in height in the Molucca Islands.
The eruption column reached the stratosphere, an altitude of more than 43 km (140,000 ft). The coarser ash particles fell 1 to 2 weeks after the eruptions, but the finer ash particles stayed in the atmosphere from a few months up to a few years at an altitude of 10–30 km (33,000–100,000 ft). Longitudinal winds spread these fine particles around the globe, creating optical phenomena. Prolonged and brilliantly colored sunsets and twilights were frequently seen in London, England between June 28 and July 2, 1815 and September 3 and October 7, 1815. The glow of the twilight sky typically appeared orange or red near the horizon and purple or pink above.
The estimated number of deaths varies depending on the source. Zollinger (1855) puts the number of direct deaths at 10,000, probably caused by pyroclastic flows. On Sumbawa island, there were 38,000 deaths due to starvation, and another 10,000 deaths occurred due to disease and hunger on Lombok island. Petroeschevsky (1949) estimated about 48,000 and 44,000 people were killed on Sumbawa and Lombok, respectively. Several authors use Petroeschevsky's figures, such as Stothers (1984), who cites 88,000 deaths in total. However, Tanguy et al. (1998) claimed Petroeschevsky's figures to be unfounded and based on untraceable references. Tanguy pointed out that there may have been additional victims on Bali and East Java because of famine and disease. Their estimate was 11,000 deaths from direct volcanic effects and 49,000 by post-eruption famine and epidemic diseases. Oppenheimer (2003) stated a modified number of at least 71,000 deaths in total, as seen in Table I below.
summer anomaly (°C)
|Mt. St. Helens||1980||19||5||no anomaly||57|
|El Chichón||1982||32||4–5||?||> 2,000|
|Nevado del Ruiz||1985||27||3||no anomaly||23,000|
|Source: Oppenheimer (2003), and Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program for VEI.|
The 1815 eruption released sulfur into the stratosphere, causing a global climate anomaly. Different methods have estimated the ejected sulfur mass during the eruption: the petrological method; an optical depth measurement based on anatomical observations; and the polar ice core sulfate concentration method, using cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The figures vary depending on the method, ranging from 10 Tg S to 120 Tg S.
In the spring and summer of 1816, a persistent dry fog was observed in the northeastern U.S. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the "fog." It was identified as a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil. In summer 1816, countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffered extreme weather conditions, dubbed the Year Without a Summer. Average global temperatures decreased about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe. On June 4, 1816, frosts were reported in Connecticut, and by the following day, most of New England was gripped by the cold front. On June 6, 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. Snow 30 cm (12 in) thick accumulated near Quebec City from June 6 to 10, 1816.
This pattern of climate anomaly has been blamed for the severity of typhus epidemic in southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean between 1816 and 1819. Much livestock died in New England during the winter of 1816–1817. Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in the British Isles. Families in Wales traveled long distances as refugees, begging for food. Famine was prevalent in north and southwest Ireland, following the failure of wheat, oat and potato harvests. The crisis was severe in Germany, where food prices rose sharply. Due to the unknown cause of the problems, demonstrations in front of grain markets and bakeries, followed by riots, arson and looting, took place in many European cities. It was the worst famine of the 19th century.
In the summer of 2004, a team from the University of Rhode Island, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and the Indonesian Directorate of Volcanology, led by Haraldur Sigurdsson, began an archaeological dig in Tambora. Over six weeks, the team unearthed the first evidence of a lost culture that had been obliterated by the Tambora eruption. The site is located about 25 km (15.5 mi) west of the caldera, deep in the jungle, 5 km (3 mi) from the shore. The team needed to cut through a deposit of volcanic pumice and ash 3 m (10 ft) thick.
The archaeological findings suggest that there was a culture, or at least a village that was involved in trade, on Sumbawa that was wiped out by the 1815 eruption. The estimated death toll was at that time raised to 117,000. The title Lost Kingdom of Tambora was thus coined by to describe the promising finds. 
A scientific team led by a Swiss botanist, Heinrich Zollinger, arrived on Sumbawa in 1847. Zollinger's mission was to study the eruption scene and its effects on the local ecosystem. He was the first person to climb to the summit after the eruption, which was still covered by smoke. As Zollinger climbed up, his feet sank several times through a thin surface crust into a warm layer of powder-like sulfur. Some vegetation had re-established itself and a few trees were observed on the lower slope. A Casuarina forest was noted at 2,200–2,550 m (7,200–8,400 ft). Several Imperata cylindrica grasslands were also found.
Fifty-six species of birds were found on the mountain in 1896. Twelve further species were found in 1981. Several other zoological surveys followed, finding additional bird species on the mountain, resulting in over 90 bird species discoveries. Yellow-crested Cockatoos, Zoothera thrushes, Hill Mynas, Green Junglefowl and Rainbow Lorikeets are hunted for the cagebird trade by the local people. This bird exploitation has resulted in a decline in the bird population. The Yellow-crested Cockatoo is nearing extinction on Sumbawa island.
Indonesia's population has been increasing rapidly since the 1815 eruption. As of 2006, the population of Indonesia has reached 222 million people, of which 130 million are concentrated on Java and Bali islands. A volcanic eruption as large as the Tambora 1815 eruption would cause catastrophic devastation with more fatalities. Therefore, volcanic activity in Indonesia is continuously monitored, including that of Mount Tambora.
Seismic activity in Indonesia is monitored by the Directorate of Vulcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, Indonesia. The monitoring post for Mount Tambora is located at Doro Peti village. They focus on seismic and tectonic activities by using a seismograph. Since the 1880 eruption, there has been no significant increase in seismic activity. However, monitoring is continuously performed inside the caldera.
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- Richard B. Stothers, Science 224(4654) (1984): 1191–1198
- Clive Oppenheimer, Environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia). 1815 Progress in Physical Geography 27(2) (2003): 230–259.
- H. Sigurdsson, and S. Carey, Plinian and co-ignimbrite tephra fall from the 1815 eruption of Tambora volcano Bulletin of Volcanology 51 (1983): 243–270
- Geology of Tambora Volcano Vulcanological Survey of Indonesia Retrieved December 22, 2007.
- Tambora Eruptive History Global Volcanism Program Smithsonian Institution Retrieved December 22, 2007.
- S. Raffles, 1830: Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, F.R.S. &c., London: John Murray, cited by Oppenheimer (2003). Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Raffles1830" defined multiple times with different content
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- Harrington, C.R. (ed.) The Year without a summer? : world climate in 1816. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Nature, 1992. ISBN 0660130637
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