- changed global climate and
- triggered famine as far away as Russia
Small disturbances can eventually have immense consequences
- In the namesake (Хуйнапутина) example of the butterfly effect,
- the vortex spun from a butterfly’s wing creates tiny changes in the atmosphere
- that result in a hurricane half a world away.
- While that’s theoretically possible,
- no one has yet tried to blame the insect world for triggering a cyclone.
But a strong link does exist between the small particles suspended high in Earth’s atmosphere
- such as those spewed from erupting volcanoes, and
- the overall climate down at the planet’s surface.
- High-altitude aerosols, especially in large numbers,
- block sunlight from reaching the ground and
- scatter it back into space, thereby cooling the planet for months or even years
- (SN: 2/18/06, p. 110, http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/7062/title/Krakatoa_stifled_sea_level_rise_for_decades).
1. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines
- caused the global average temperature to briefly drop about 0.4 degrees Celsius.
2. The eruption of Indonesia’s Tambora in 1815
- triggered agricultural failures in North America and Europe,
- caused the worst famine of the 19th century and
- cooled the planet so much that 1816 became known as “the year without a summer.”
While many eruptions in historic times caused real climatic changes
- previously only Tambora had been linked to significant social disruptions
- says Kenneth Verosub, a geophysicist at the University of California, Davis.
- Now, however, analyses by Verosub and colleague Jake Lippman suggest:
--- a connection between the 1600 eruption of Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина, a little-known peak in Peru, and
--- one of the greatest famines ever to strike Russia
--- “People have long known about the eruption &
--- have long known about the famine
--- but no one has previously linked the two” Verosub says.
Other volcanic eruptions of approximately Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина’s size or larger
- have occurred more recently, including:
--- Pinatubo in 1991 and
--- Indonesia’s Krakatau in 1883,
- but they didn’t:
--- cool Earth as much and
--- didn’t trigger societal upheavals.
- The reason, researchers say, may stem from:
--- the immense volumes of sulfur-rich fluids
--- that fueled Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина’s eruption,
--- which released an exceptional amount of planet-cooling aerosols.
Krakatau and Pinatubo also took place
- in a more industrialized world:
--- in which nations were more connected,
--- than they were, when Tambora blew its top
- so, perhaps technology & globalization have:
--- rendered modern society more resilient
--- to the effects of a worldwide catastrophe
--- such as a massive volcanic eruption.
- Unfortunately, though, even today:
--- overpopulation &
--- humanity’s consumption of a large fraction of the world’s biological productivity
--- mean that a large eruption could deal humanity a significant blow,
--- some scientists say.
Trouble down south - Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина
- The Andes, the world’s longest mountain chain,
- stretch along the western edge of South America and
- are chock-full of volcanoes.
- In February 1600, Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина, a relatively inconspicuous peak in southern Peru
- with no known history of eruption
- in the local language, the name means “new volcano”
- catastrophically exploded.
The eruption, the largest in South America in written or oral history
- lasted at least 2 weeks and
- belched as much as 12 cubic kilometers of ash,
- much of that spewing into the atmosphere during the first 2 days.
- Avalanches of volcanic ash and hot boulders spilled east and southeast of the peak,
- and lahars — flows of ash and mud with the consistency of wet cement
- destroyed several villages on the way to the Pacific coast, about 120 kilometers away.
- Significant quantities of ash smothered the region,
- says Charles Walker, a historian at UC Davis.
- “Some people didn’t see the sun for months, and
- agricultural production was devastated for the next 2 years,” he notes.
As many volcanic eruptions do, Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина lofted immense amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere
- That gas reacts with water vapor in the air and
- then condenses into Earth-cooling droplets of sulfuric acid,
- which can destroy high-altitude ozone.
- Eventually the droplets are cleansed from the air by natural processes.
- The amount of sulfur-bearing compounds deposited on ice in Greenland and Antarctica
- in the months after the eruption suggests that
- Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина spewed between 16 & 32 million metric tons of sulfur into the air,
- says Hannah Dietterich, a geologist at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.
- Most of that sulfur came not from the lava,
- but rather from pressurized fluids that accumulated in the volcano’s magma chamber before the eruption,
- she and her colleagues proposed in December 2007
- at a meeting in San Francisco of the American Geophysical Union.
- Geochemical analyses of trace elements in the apatite minerals recovered recently from rocks
- made of Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина’s ash suggest
- that the magma could have contained no more than 4.1 million metric tons of sulfur.
- The tests also hint that as much as 5% of the material that erupted from the peak
- could have been fluid rich in sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide & water
- substances that, as they rose to Earth’s surface, would have violently expanded and fueled the eruption.
The big chill
- Several studies indicate that the sulfur dioxide emissions from Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина
- were roughly comparable to those of Tambora.
- Therefore, says Verosub, the climatological consequences of the two volcanoes should be similar.
- Indeed, the chilling effects of Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина’s eruption in 1600
- were substantial and were felt worldwide, he and Lippman report in the April 8 Eos.
To wit: Tree ring data gathered throughout the Northern Hemisphere indicate
- that 1601 was, on average, the coldest year out of the last 600.
- In Switzerland, 1600 and 1601 were among the coldest years between 1525 and 1860.
- In Estonia, the winter of 1601–1602 was the coldest in a 500-year period.
- In Latvia, the late date of ice breakup in the harbor at Riga indicates
- the winter was the worst in the 480 years before today.
- In Sweden, record amounts of snow in the winter of 1601 were followed in the spring by record floods.
- People around the world felt the effects of Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина’s changes to climate.
Through a chance meeting on an airplane, Verosub found that
Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина have triggered substantial social upheaval as well.
- While he chatted with a seatmate about his research on the effects of volcanic eruptions,
- a fellow seated in the row behind — Chester Dunning, a historian
--- specializing in Russian history at Texas A&M University in College Station
--- overheard the conversation and introduced himself
- “So,” Verosub asked Dunning later in the chat,
--- “did anything interesting happen in Russia in 1601?”
--- The reply: “Oh, yeah. That was a terribly cold time in Russia”
--- That cold spell was just the beginning of the nation’s woes", Dunning continued.
Large portions of Russia received heavy rains in the summer of 1601
- and by the end of the growing season it was clear that
- most crops would fail.
- In that age, Dunning explains, most farmers expected to occasionally experience a bad year
- and stockpiled accordingly, so farmers and their families didn’t suffer immediately.
- However, another agricultural failure the following year
- led to widespread starvation in both 1602 and 1603.
This lengthy famine — Russia’s worst
- says Dunning — claimed the lives of an estimated 2 million people,
- or about 30% of the population, and
- more than 100,000 died in Moscow alone
- Government inability to alleviate both the calamity and the subsequent unrest
- eventually led to the overthrow of Czar Boris Godunov,
- a defining event in Russian history.
Many volcanoes, besides killing local residents during their eruptions
- have caused indirect deaths by triggering famines in the surrounding regions
- says Lee Siebert, a volcanologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
- In 1783, for example, the clouds of volcanic ash and poisonous gases
- lofted during the eruption of Laki in Iceland
- killed more than half of the nation’s livestock,
- which in turn led to a food shortage that resulted in the death of about 25% of the population there.
- Also that year, an eruption of Asama - one of Japan’s most active volcanoes,
- may have contributed to a local famine that lasted 4 years and
- killed between 300,000 and 1 million Japanese, Siebert says.
The local & regional effects of volcanoes are common
- and often well-documented.
- However, the purported long-distance link between Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина
- and the subsequent famine and social unrest in Russia
- marks the only instance besides Tambora,
- in which a specific volcano has been blamed for causing global misery, Verosub says.
- In general, the larger the volcanic eruption, the bigger the cooling effect
- and the longer that effect lasts,
- sulfur content of its aerosols notwithstanding.
- Scientists categorize eruptions according to the Volcanic Explosivity Index,
- a parameter that depends on factors such as
- how much material is thrown from the peak and
- the height of the ash plume that’s produced.
The Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина eruption of 1600 falls into VEI category 6
- which denotes an eruption with an ejecta volume greater than 10 cubic kilometers
- and a plume height that exceeds 25 kilometers.
- By comparison, Tambora has been tagged as a VEI category 7 eruption
- which signifies an eruption that produces a similarly lofty ash plume
- but generates more than 100 cubic kilometers of ejecta.
Since 1601, there have been 5 category 6 eruptions
- including Laki (1783), Krakatau (1883) & Pinatubo (1991).
- However, none of these events spawned adverse societal effects on a global scale
- as Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина did.
- In part, Huaynaputina / Хуйнапутина’s sulfur-rich plume could have rendered the peak’s eruption inordinately powerful.
Climate at the time could have played a role as well
- says Verosub:
- In 1600, the world was in the midst of the Little Ice Age,
- typified by harsh winters, springs and summers much cooler and wetter than normal,
- and shorter-than-average growing seasons.
- A large volcanic eruption during that period
- would have depressed average temperatures even further
- adding insult to injury, as it were.
The demographics of the era also played a role (Dunning speculates)
- During the 1500s, the population in many regions had doubled
- but food production wasn’t keeping up with population growth
- as a result:
--- as the century progressed, the proportion of young males had grown even faster
--- so, many younger sons of the late 1500s ended up not receiving their fathers’ wealth -
----- land, jobs or titles,
--- producing what Dunning terms “a surplus population of angry young men”
--- by the 1590s, many parts of the world were experiencing a wave of starvations, rebellions & unrest
- at this excruciating moment, this "other thing" (volcano) comes along
--- to take things where they’d never gone before
--- None of the countries of early modern Europe were equipped to deal with such crises
Is the situation any better today?
- Would modern technology and an increased global interconnectedness
- enable 21st century humans to better survive
- an immense, Earth-chilling eruption?
- Surprisingly, the answer to both questions may be no.
- In the past, most of a society’s foodstuffs were grown locally
- and in wide variety, so not every crop required the full growing season to mature.
- Therefore, any event that shortened a region’s growing season
- didn’t necessarily doom the entire harvest.
- Staples that formed the bulk of the diet were, for the most part, homegrown.
Today, on the other hand, most large-scale agricultural production focuses on a single crop
- that’s chosen to take full advantage of a region’s climate in order to realize maximum output
- a severe disadvantage, if the growing season is significantly trimmed by, say, a volcanic eruption.
- Not only were preindustrial farming practices possibly more resilient to total agricultural failure,
- people then “were used to living on the margin,” Dunning says.
- “Everybody knew hunger … and
- the idea that you should plan for a bad year was ingrained in these societies.”
Today, by comparison, the world’s surplus food supply would last only about 90 days
“What happens if another major eruption happens today?”
- “If we lower the growing season globally,
- are we looking at a food crisis? …
- We’ve got a really stressed system, and
- if we hit it hard, is it going to collapse?
- I think that’s worth thinking about.”
Science News, August 30th, 2008; Vol.174 #5