Tambora, the forgotten biggie

I cannot really do a volcanism blog without mention of Tambora, firstly because it produced the largest eruption in recorded history, a VEI 7, and subsequently produced the year without a summer in 1816. The significance of this volcano cannot be overstated, and yet most of the public at large have never heard of it.  Mention Krakatau (taking care to mispronounce it Krakatoa) and most people will have heard of it. “Oh yeah, that volcano that blew up the whole place back then… someplace…”

Most people have also heard of Mt. Vesuvius, and know it killed whole bunches of people a long time ago. What they don’t know is that it’s quite probably getting ready to do it all over again, and on a much larger scale.

Tambora from orbit

Tambora, I have to admit, is my very favorite volcano in the whole world,  for what  I feel are very good reasons. Check that puppy to the left out, that’s from the International Space Station. We aren’t kidding around here people!

It’s my favorite volcano for good reasons, not the least of which being that it did produce the largest eruption in human memory, and in so doing blasted 36 cubic miles of rock and ash into the stratosphere and blew off the top 4,000 feet of the mountain, but also because it has the largest volcanic crater on earth, and… its still alive!

Tambora is quite literally the rock star of stratovolanoes.

Yes folks, that monster is still breathing, and the magma is just beneath the floor of it’s crater. Today you can see steam and gases coming out of the insides of the crater, and smell the sulfur, if you are lucky enough to be one of the very few to have set foot there.

The eruption of Tambora in 1815 was rated a VEI 7. Please do appreciate that this is one step short of a super-volcano. Tambora is the only basaltic/andesitic Holocene stratovolcano to have ever produced an eruption of that magnitude… that we know of. Any other eruption approaching that magnitude has been a super-eruption on the scale of Toba or the Huckleberry Ridge Yellowstone eruptions of 74,000 years ago and 2.1 million years ago respectively.

It is said that the 1883 eruption of Krakatau produced the loudest sound ever heard by human ears, or recorded in history. Actually it wasn’t really recorded audibly, it registered off the scale on mercury column instruments in Batavia, and was heard 3000 miles away, but we do not know that it was the loudest sound ever in human history, and it’s quite probable that it wasn’t. 

The eruption of Tambora in 1815 took place before there were so many Europeans in Indonesia as there were in 1883, and there were no telegraphs there in 1815 either, so the much larger eruption of Tambora, 6 times larger than that of Krakatau, received little to no attention.

Please do appreciate that the crater you are looking at is big enough to contain nearly all of San Francisco.  (please click on the picture.) If you can look at that crater without saying “Oh f*ck!” under your breath you just don’t get it.

Well all know about Pompeii and Herculaneum, how humans were preserved in the ash of pyroclastic flows there, but until quite recently nothing of the kingdom of Tambora had been found. What we know of it’s people from history is that they were typical islanders in most respects, that they bred and traded horses, engaged in fishing, and that they led peaceable and tranquil lives for the most part up until April 10th 1815, when all their lives ended most unhappily.

There are no seismographs on Tambora. It gets almost no attention from the geologic community at all, but at least one very prominent geologist has given it the attention it deserves. Since it has become known as the Pompeii of the East, and the remains of it’s people and cities have only just started to be uncovered.


About Martina Vaslovik

Volcano nerd and seismogeek
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Volcanology. Bookmark the permalink.

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