I listened to Gillen Wood speak twice about Tambora; once in my Weather, Climate, and Society class, and once in the Continuing Revolutions Seminar. At first, I cringed at the thought of listening to the same lecture twice, but to my surprise, the lectures weren’t completely the same, furthered my understanding of the subject, and brought to mind lots of interesting questions. Throughout both lectures, I noticed that there seemed to be a theme of loss due to the eruption of Tambora. People lost their lives in the initial eruption, entire ethnic groups were wiped out, and many people around the world were forced the relocate due to the unfavorable climate change. This brings me to my question: “How much was lost in the eruption of Tambora?” and “What would happen if Tambora erupted today?”
In his lecture, Wood stated that after the eruption, the areas immediately surrounding the volcano were buried under 5 to 6 feet of volcanic ash; changing the land of Sumbawa overnight. Many of the villages were wiped out, and with that, we lost their history, their language, and any texts that may have existed. The only record of the language exists in a dictionary that a European scholar was in the process of creating when the volcano erupted. Besides from this though, there are very few Sumbawan artifacts from that time period, with the exception of Chinese pottery found by archaeologists in the regions.
Now, why was there Chinese pottery in Sumbawa in 1815? There is one simple answer: because of trading. We don’t know much about Sumbawa, but from the logs of ships and the discovery of the pottery, it is believed that the island was an established port that regularly used the trade routes. If all of Sumbawan history was erased by Tambora, we may have believed it to simply have been an island with a small population who lived in primitive villages. This shows the real danger of Tambora; erasing human history and keeping us ignorant.
Tambora had a large scale effect though, affecting much more than Sumbawa. The gases and particles released into the atmosphere from Tambora spread all over the globe within just a few short weeks. This blocked out sunlight, melted the polar ice caps, and caused large scale climate change. The effects of Tambora were so severe that a large population of people in the United States and all over the globe were forced to relocated to more climactically stable environments. These environmental refugees were forced to uproot their lives to escape the fallout of Tambora. Now, imagine if Tambora were to erupt in 2016.
With our increased levels of climate change, I can only imagine that the implications of a major eruption would be near catastrophic. Tens of thousands of people were killed due to the effects of Tambora, and that was back when the population was close to 1 billion people. Today, the population is nearing 8 billion people, corresponding to a death toll in the millions. Agricultural and farm systems would be in a state of crisis, people would starve, many people wouldn’t be able to move to a better place due to the rise in prices, and it would be a lose-lose situation overall.