On April 10, 1815, the Tambora volcano in Indonesia roared into action, producing the largest eruption of the last 10,000 years and killing thousands of villagers living on the mountain’s slopes. The volcano produced some 36 cubic miles of ash and rock and injected large amounts of small particles, or aerosols, into the stratosphere, which produced brilliantly colored skies on the other side of the world.
Tambora was “a tragedy of nations masquerading as a spectacular sunset,” Gillen D’Arcy Wood of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, writes in Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World. Those aerosol particles stayed in the stratosphere for two years, blocking sunlight and causing havoc on Earth’s climate. The year 1816 was so cold that it snowed in New England in June, and the period became known as “the year without a summer.” Grain shortages and famine occurred across the globe, and Tambora’s far-reaching death toll would eventually claim more than 100,000 according to some estimates.
Other effects of the eruption weren't immediately obvious, ranging from artistic masterworks to polar exploration, and some of them still live with us today:
Spectacular Sunsets Set Artists Ablaze
In the months after the Tambora eruption, European artists, such as William Turner, recorded the strange sunsets caused by the event. Scientists have even been able to use paintings by artists like Caspar David Friedrich of Germany to measure aerosol levels from the years after Tambora. The painting above, for instance, was created between 1818 and 1820 and famously captures the vivid reds and oranges of post-eruption skies.