1808 mystery eruption

The 1808 mystery eruption is either a single large volcanic eruption (VEI-6), or a series of volcanic eruptions, conjectured to have taken place in 1808–1809.[2] This eruption is suspected of having contributed to a period of global cooling that lasted several years,[3][4] analogous to how the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora (VEI-7) led to the Year Without a Summer in 1816. A VEI-6 eruption is comparable to the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.

Sulfate concentration in ice cores from Greenland, dated by counting oxygen isotope seasonal variations: A large unknown eruption occurred somewhat before the year 1810.[1] The peak after 1815 was caused by the Mount Tambora eruption.


Until the 1990s, climatologists considered the known deterioration of the weather in the early 1810s as normal for the Little Ice Age. A 1991 study of Greenland and Antarctic ice cores however found a sulfate spike roughly half that of Tambora in early 1809.[5] This faced volcanologists with the problem that this period has no recorded eruptions of the needed magnitude to generate such spike.[6] Further research and bristlecone pine tree ring data pointed to the eruption being in 1808 rather than early 1809.[7]

Location and dateEdit

Due to reports in Bogotá and Lima, the volcano is conjectured to be between Indonesia and Tonga.

The expectation that any eruptions of that magnitude should have been noticed at the time added to the mystery. Records from the time throughout the world were checked but nothing appeared viable until the summer of 2014, when PhD student Alvaro Guevara-Murua and Dr Caroline Williams of the University of Bristol discovered an account of atmospheric events consistent with such an event by Colombian scientist Francisco José de Caldas.

Caldas served as Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Bogotá between 1805 and 1810 and in 1809 reported a transparent cloud that obstructs the sun's brilliance at Bogotá. It had first been observed by him on 11 December 1808 and was visible across Colombia.[4] The cloud might have been a "dry fog", which is a sulfuric acid (H2SO4) aerosol.[4] He also reported that the weather had been unusually cold, with frosts.

To the south, in Peru, physician Hipólito Unanue made similar observations in Lima.[4] These reports led those involved to suggest that the window of the eruption was within seven days of 4 December 1808.[4] Caldas' and Unanue's accounts indicated the existence of a stratospheric aerosol veil spanning at least 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) into both northern and southern hemispheres. The only likely source for this would be a tropical volcano, most likely located in the southern hemisphere but not likely further than 20 degrees south latitude.[4]

The south-western Pacific Ocean between Indonesia and Tonga is an area in the tropics to the west of Colombia and Peru with candidate volcanoes and with little reporting at that time. This area had no European settlements at the time, and most of the reporting on its volcanic activity goes back only to the mid-19th century, apart from the occasional sighting by passing European explorers.[8] The region includes the Rabaul area, which has had VEI 6 eruptions, as well as the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha'apai area which had a VEI 5–6 eruption in 2022.[9] The oral histories of the indigenous populations of these areas report eruptions, but these could not be dated with any degree of certainty.[10]

Compilations of the geochemistry of tephras found at the corresponding sulfate layer in ice cores indicate multiple eruptions around this time, including a probable Antarctic source, an Alaskan source and Indonesian source. The massive 1809 sulfate spike was generated by a combination of tropical and extra-tropical eruptions occurring in short succession rather than a single large volcanic eruption.[2]

Known significant eruptions in 1808Edit

In 1808 there were major eruptions in Urzelina, Azores, on 1–4 May, and in Taal Volcano, Philippines, in March.[11] Neither of these occurred within the correct time period for the visual observations.

The Chilean Putana volcano also had a major eruption around this time, with an approximate date of 1810 (with a 10-year margin of error), but it is located 22 degrees south and therefore slightly outside the preferred latitude range.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dai, Jihong; Mosley-Thompson, Ellen; Thompson, Lonnie G. (1991). "Ice core evidence for an explosive tropical volcanic eruption six years preceding Tambora". Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 96 (D9): 17, 361–17, 366. Bibcode:1991JGR....9617361D. doi:10.1029/91jd01634.
  2. ^ a b Plunkett, Gill; Sigl, Michael; McConnell, Joseph R.; Pilcher, Jonathan R.; Chellman, Nathan J. (1 February 2023). "The significance of volcanic ash in Greenland ice cores during the Common Era". Quaternary Science Reviews. 301: 107936. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2022.107936. ISSN 0277-3791. S2CID 181849906.
  3. ^ "Mysterious Volcanic Eruption of 1808 Described". Science Daily. University of Bristol. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Guevara-Murua, A.; Williams, C. A.; Hendy, E.J.; Rust, A.C.; Cashman, K.V. (2014). "Observations of a stratospheric aerosol veil from a tropical volcanic eruption in December 1808: is this the Unknown ~ 1809 eruption?" (PDF). Climate of the Past. 10 (5): 1707–1722. Bibcode:2014CliPa..10.1707G. doi:10.5194/cp-10-1707-2014.
  5. ^ Dai, Jihong; Mosley-Thompson, Ellen; Thompson, Lonnie G. (1991). "Ice core evidence for an explosive tropical volcanic eruption 6 years preceding Tambora". Journal of Geophysical Research. 96 (D9): 17361. doi:10.1029/91JD01634. ISSN 0148-0227.
  6. ^ Dai, Jihong; Mosley-Thompson, Ellen; Thompson, Lonnie G. (1991). "Ice Core Evidence for an Explosive Tropical Volcanic Eruption Six Years Preceding Tambora". Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 96 (D9): 17, 361–17, 366. Bibcode:1991JGR....9617361D. doi:10.1029/91jd01634.
  7. ^ Salzer, Matthew W.; Hughes, Malcolm K. (January 2007). "Bristlecone Pine Tree Rings and Volcanic Eruptions Over the Last 5000 yr". Quaternary Research. 67 (1): 57–68. Bibcode:2007QuRes..67...57S. doi:10.1016/j.yqres.2006.07.004. S2CID 14654597.
  8. ^ 2. Volcano Sightings by European Navigators: 1528–1870, Fire Mountains of the Islands, R Wally Johnson, ANU E Press, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia, ISBN 978-1-922144-22-5 (pbk.) 9781922144232 (eBook)
  9. ^ David A. Yuen; Melissa A. Scruggs; Frank J. Spera; Yingcai Zheng; Hao Hu; Stephen R. McNutt; Glenn Thompson; Kyle Mandli; Barry R. Keller; Songqiao Shawn Wei; Zhigang Peng; Zili Zhou; Francesco Mulargia; Yuichiro Tanioka (18 March 2022). "Under the Surface: Pressure-Induced Planetary-Scale Waves, Volcanic Lightning, and Gaseous Clouds Caused by the Submarine Eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai Volcano Provide an Excellent Research Opportunity". Earthquake Research Advances. Elsevier. Article in press. doi:10.1016/j.eqrea.2022.100134. S2CID 247550313.
  10. ^ http://www.volcanolive.com/savo.html Savo - Toghavitu Eruption. Retrieved 24 November 2015
  11. ^ Knittel, Ulrich (1999). "History of Taal's Activity to 1911 as Described by Fr. Saderra Maso". Institut für Mineralogie und Lagerstättenlehre, RWTH Aachen University. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  12. ^ "1809: The missing volcano". www.volcanocafe.org. 25 January 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2018.

External linksEdit