Meteorological records narrow down time and place of massive eruption that helped trigger decade of extreme cold
Stephen F. Corfidi/NOAA-NWS Storm Prediction Center
Reports of hazy, colorful skies may offer the first known historical evidence of an enigmatic volcanic eruption that occurred more than 200 years ago. The newly uncovered records help researchers narrow down the time and place of the explosion that kicked off the coldest decade of the last 500 years, the 1810s.
Writings from a Colombian astronomer and a Peruvian physician describe a silvery sun, brilliant twilights and dimmed stars starting in December 1808. These are telltale meteorological aftermaths of a mighty eruption that spewed climate-altering particles into the atmosphere.
Because of sulfur deposits in polar ice cores, which act as a physical record of volcanic activity, scientists had suspected that such an eruption occurred in 1808 or 1809. But they knew little else. “This eruption had been speculated for a long time, and until now there were no reports of any kind,” says environmental chemist Jihong Cole-Dai of South Dakota State University in Brookings.