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Tambora 1815 as a test case for high impact volcanic eruptions: Earth system effects: Tambora 1815 as a test case for high impact volcanic eruptions


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The eruption of Tambora (Indonesia) in April 1815 had substantial effects on global climate and led to the ‘Year Without a Summer’ of 1816 in Europe and North America. Although a tragic event—tens of thousands of people lost their lives—the eruption also was an ‘experiment of nature’ from which science has learned until today. The aim of this study is to summarize our current understanding of the Tambora eruption and its effects on climate as expressed in early instrumental observations, climate proxies and geological evidence, climate reconstructions, and model simulations. Progress has been made with respect to our understanding of the eruption process and estimated amount of SO 2 injected into the atmosphere, although large uncertainties still exist with respect to altitude and hemispheric distribution of Tambora aerosols. With respect to climate effects, the global and Northern Hemispheric cooling are well constrained by proxies whereas there is no strong signal in Southern Hemisphere proxies. Newly recovered early instrumental information for Western Europe and parts of North America, regions with particularly strong climate effects, allow Tambora's effect on the weather systems to be addressed. Climate models respond to prescribed Tambora‐like forcing with a strengthening of the wintertime stratospheric polar vortex, global cooling and a slowdown of the water cycle, weakening of the summer monsoon circulations, a strengthening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and a decrease of atmospheric CO 2 . Combining observations, climate proxies, and model simulations for the case of Tambora, a better understanding of climate processes has emerged. WIREs Clim Change 2016, 7:569–589. doi: 10.1002/wcc.407 This article is categorized under: Paleoclimates and Current Trends > Paleoclimate
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Tambora 1815 as a test case for
high impact volcanic eruptions:
Earth system effects
Christoph C. Raible,
Stefan Brönnimann,
*Renate Auchmann,
Philip Brohan,
Thomas L. Frölicher,
Hans-F. Graf,
Phil Jones,
Jürg Luterbacher,
Stefan Muthers,
Raphael Neukom,
Alan Robock,
Stephen Self,
Adjat Sudrajat,
Claudia Timmreck
and Martin Wegmann
Edited by Matilde Rusticucci, Domain Editor, and Mike Hulme, Editor-in-Chief.
The eruption of Tambora (Indonesia) in April 1815 had substantial effects on
global climate and led to the Year Without a Summerof 1816 in Europe and
North America. Although a tragic eventtens of thousands of people lost their
livesthe eruption also was an experiment of naturefrom which science has
learned until today. The aim of this study is to summarize our current under-
standing of the Tambora eruption and its effects on climate as expressed in
early instrumental observations, climate proxies and geological evidence, cli-
mate reconstructions, and model simulations. Progress has been made with
respect to our understanding of the eruption process and estimated amount of
injected into the atmosphere, although large uncertainties still exist with
respect to altitude and hemispheric distribution of Tambora aerosols. With
respect to climate effects, the global and Northern Hemispheric cooling are well
constrained by proxies whereas there is no strong signal in Southern Hemi-
sphere proxies. Newly recovered early instrumental information for Western
Europe and parts of North America, regions with particularly strong climate
effects, allow Tamboras effect on the weather systems to be addressed. Climate
models respond to prescribed Tambora-like forcing with a strengthening of the
wintertime stratospheric polar vortex, global cooling and a slowdown of the
These authors contributed equally.
*Correspondence to:
Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of
Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Climate and Environmental Physics, University of Bern, Bern,
Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Met Ofce Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK
Environmental Physics, Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant
Dynamics, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
Geography Department, Centre for Atmospheric Science, Univer-
sity of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
Department of Meteorology, Center of Excellence for Climate
Change Research, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Department of Geography, Climatology Climate Dynamics and
Climate Change, Justus Liebig University of Giessen, Giessen,
Department of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University, New
Brunswick, NJ, USA
Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of
California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Department of Geology, Padjadjaran University, Bandung,
Max Planck-Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
Centre for International Development and Environmental
Research, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Giessen, Germany
Conict of interest: The authors have declared no conicts of inter-
est for this article.
© 2016 The Authors.
WIREs Climate Change
published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modications or adaptations are made.
water cycle, weakening of the summer monsoon circulations, a strengthening
of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and a decrease of atmos-
pheric CO
. Combining observations, climate proxies, and model simulations
for the case of Tambora, a better understanding of climate processes has
emerged. © 2016 The Authors. WIREs Climate Change published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
How to cite this article:
WIREs Clim Change 2016. doi: 10.1002/wcc.407
In April 1815, the dormant volcano Tambora on
the Indonesian island of Sumbawa (8.25S,
118.00E; Figure 1) erupted violently. The eruption
immediately killed thousands of people on Sumbawa.
During the following months, tens of thousands died
of starvation and disease on Sumbawa and neighbor-
ing islands. The gas plume of this enormous eruption,
the largest since the 1257 Samalas eruption (shown
as Rinjani in Figure 1), produced stratospheric
sulfate aerosols that shielded incoming solar radiation
over the following 3 years.
The aerosols led to a sub-
stantial annual cooling of the Tropics and the extra-
tropical Northern Hemisphere by approximately
0.40.8C relative to the preceding 30 years.
following year, 1816, went down in history as a
Year without a Summer,
resulting in large socio-
economic impacts such as crop failures and associ-
ated famines, across the Northern Hemisphere,
including China, North America, and Europe.
Given these worldwide impacts, the Tambora erup-
tion must be considered to have had one of the great-
est death tolls attributed to a volcanic eruption.
The Tambora eruption and its climatic conse-
quences were studied repeatedly over the past century
with respect to diverse research questions ranging
from ice age theory,
asteroid impacts, nuclear
winter, and others.
Arst comprehensive overview
of the Tambora effects was published in 1992. The
book by Harington
compiled the ndings with
respect to imprints in proxies, climate data, and soci-
etal impacts across various disciplines, constituting
an authoritative reference on Tambora impacts.
However, much has been learned since the publica-
tion of Harington (1992) using new palaeoclimatolo-
gical evidence from different archives, newly digitized
instrumental data and documentary evidence, and
particularly using coupled climate models. The bicen-
tenary of the Tambora eruption provides an opportu-
nity to revisit the event and revisit our understanding
of its effects on climate.
As an experiment of nature,
the Tambora
eruption allows current scientists to test hypotheses
on the interaction between the solid Earth and the
atmosphere, atmospheric chemistry and physics,
dynamics and radiation, stratosphere and tropo-
sphere, atmosphere and oceans, climate and bio-
sphere, climate and society, and many others.
Because of its magnitude and its severe impacts,
Tambora may provide additional insights to those
obtained from studying more recent, better observed
eruptions. These new insights contribute to better
process understanding, help to project the possible
consequences of future eruptions, and may be
50 km
Samalas caldera
FIGURE 1 |Map of the LombokSumbawa sector of the Sunda arc, Indonesia, showing the location of Tambora and Rinjani, the sites of the
probably two largest eruptions of the last millennium. The map was generated using GeoMapApp©. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 145.
Copyright 2015 John Wiley and Sons)
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relevant for assessing geoengineering options. In par-
ticular, Tambora is a good test case for studying his-
torical climate-society interactions. Tambora erupted
at the beginning of the early instrumental period so
that making best use of observations, proxy informa-
tion, reconstructions, model simulations, and histori-
cal evidence is essential and thus calls for a
multidisciplinary approach. This paper focuses on
the physical processes.
The paper rst provides an overview of the
eruption, stratospheric aerosols, and radiative forcing
(second section). This section is based on volcanolog-
ical evidence on the eruption and eyewitness
accounts, but also evidence from environmental
archives such as sulfate from polar ice cores. The
analysis includes comparisons with well-observed
eruptions including Pinatubo (1991), as well as com-
puter model results. The third section focuses on
early instrumental data and derived summer tempera-
ture, precipitation, and sea-level pressure reconstruc-
tions for the North Atlantic and Europe for which
the most abundant information is available. The Fol-
lowing section then analyzes the climatic imprint of
the Tambora eruption in various natural archives
such as tree rings, ice cores, or sediments. The fth
section summarizes climate model studies of the
Tambora eruption and large volcanic eruptions in
general, as models are an important tool to address
the underlying mechanisms. Finally, we present con-
clusions and summarize from a present day perspec-
tive what we can learn from the Tambora event.
Tambora is a massive, shield-like volcano that occu-
pies much of the Sanggar Peninsula in northern Sum-
bawa, part of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Indonesia
(Figure 1). The volcano reaches a height of 2850 m,
but before 1815, it may have been one of Indonesias
highest mountains, more than 4000 m in elevation.
The climactic phase of the eruption on April
1011, 1815,
which followed almost a week of
minor and intermittent explosions, caused the sum-
mit to collapse, forming a caldera 6 ×7 km wide
and more than 1 km deep (Figure 2).
The 1815 Tambora eruption is probably the
largest caldera-forming eruption of the last few cen-
turies. Recent estimates suggest an erupted magma
(dense rock equivalent; DRE) volume of
~3050 km
It is thought that this magma was a
relatively homogeneous trachyandesite that was
stored in a shallow crustal reservoir before the erup-
tion. During the eruption, pyroclastic ows swept
down all anks of the volcano and into the sea
extending the coastline of the Sanggar Peninsula. The
pyroclastic ows and related phenomena were
mainly responsible for the casualties on Sumbawa
Island. Pumice and coarse ash fell close to the vol-
cano on the Sanggar Peninsula, but according to eye-
witness accounts the nest volcanic ash fell as far as
western Java, at least 1300 km from the source, and
much was deposited into the sea. Remobilization of
the volcanic deposits on land, and the fact that a sig-
nicant portion of the 1815 ejecta owed or fell into
the sea, make an accurate determination of the erup-
tion volume difcult. For some, if not most of the
older large Holocene eruptions, some of which were
likely to be signicantly larger than Tambora, the
erupted volumes reported may be even less accurate.
On the basis of the above uncertainties, the
measured sulfur content of both the pre-eruption vol-
atile content (from measurements on inclusions in
crystals in the 1815 tephra deposit) and degassed
magma (from measurements on volcanic glass in the
deposit) gives an emitted SO
mass of about 60 Mt
(Tg) at the low end of the range of volumes,
or lar-
ger if the true volume is shown to be bigger.
The stratigraphy of tephra deposits explored
about 25 km from the Tambora summit sheds some
FIGURE 2 |The 7 ×6 km wide and more than 1-km deep summit caldera of Tambora created by the 1815 eruption. The 1815 eruptive
products form the top of the caldera wall, as seen in the foreground. On the oor of the caldera lie an ephemeral lake and a small cone from a
post-1815 eruption. Photo by Katie Preece. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 145. Copyright 2015 John Wiley and Sons)
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light on the sequence of eruption phases.
Prior to
the cataclysmic eruption on April 10, 1815, a series
of less intense phreatomagmatic and Plinian erup-
tions took place with maximum intensity of the erup-
tion exceeding 10
kg s
, leading to maximum
plume heights of more than 30 km. The eruption cul-
minated in the climactic eruption of April 1011 with
an intensity of probably 3 ×10
kg s
and a maxi-
mum plume height of more than 40 km.
this arguably reects overshoot heights rather than
the altitude at which the bulk of the gases was
The huge Plinian eruption column col-
lapsed and formed giant pyroclastic ows from
which the main co-ignimbrite or Phoenix plume
arose. This sequence of events is essential for the
atmospheric injection height of SO
and ne ash.
Observations after more recent big eruptions and
model simulations
show that the vertical proles of
and ne ash injection have maxima near the
neutral buoyancy height (NBH), which is signi-
cantly lower than the maximum plume height. Dur-
ing Plinian phases, when the convection of the plume
is well organized, initial momentum and heat propel
ne ash and gases to heights above the NBH, but
most of the material will fall back to the NBH, forc-
ing a spread of the plumed umbrella that can exceed
100 m s
, leading to very fast horizontal transport
of ash at NBH and distant ash fall afterwards. If the
mass load within the plume becomes too high, the
plume starts collapsing and feeds pyroclastic ows
rapidly surging down the anks of the volcano for
tens of kilometers and lling the near-surface atmos-
phere with a mixture of hot gases and ash.
From this hot pillow,very ne ash particles
and gases will be elutriated and form another, sec-
ondary eruption column, the Phoenix or co-
ignimbrite cloud. Owing to the spatial extent of this
Phoenix cloud, convection is less organized and the
NBH is lower than for the original Plinian plume.
Merger of both will lead to hybrid plumes. The
plume dynamics depend on a wide range of in-plume
processes such as condensation and freezing of water
with formation of hydrometeors and latent heat
release, aggregation of ash particles, rainout, wash-
out and freeze-out of gases and particles, electric
charging, of which, for historic eruptions, we are
mostly lacking observed information. Such events
were simulated for eruptions close to the Tambora
eruption rates.
For mass eruption rates of
1.3 ×10
kg s
van Eaton et al.
found NBH
based on maximum ash concentration of about
13 km for dry co-ignimbrite plumes and around
22 km for Plinian columns with initial water content
of 10%. For mass eruption rates of 1.1 ×10
kg s
they found NBH based on maximum ash concentra-
tion of about 18 km for dry co-ignimbrite plumes
and around 23 km for Plinian columns. Maximum
eruption heights for these cases were simulated to
about 3242 km, that is, much higher than the NBH.
Gas injection heights are generally slightly higher
than ash injection heights. For the Tambora mass
eruption rates, we can therefore assume a vertical
prole with a maximum injection of SO
20 and 25 km. This corresponds well with observed
injection height proles after the smaller 1991 Pina-
tubo eruption.
The sulfate aerosol cloud that developed from
the injected SO
was spread globally by the strato-
spheric winds. The stratospheric meridional circula-
tion transported the aerosols poleward. Ultimately,
the sulfate reached the troposphere, where it was
quickly washed out. Today, Tamboras sulfate signal
is still preserved in polar ice cores. In fact, estimates
of sulfate mass uxes from bipolar ice cores provide
the basis for reconstructing stratospheric sulfur
amounts and of radiative forcing. However, this
requires an assumption on the efciencies of strato-
spheric transport in each hemisphere. While Gao
et al.
found an approximately equal distribution of
sulfate deposition in Antarctic and Greenland ice
cores, Sigl et al.
suggested considerably higher sul-
fate uxes in Antarctica as compared to Greenland.
This appears inconsistent with the fact that climate
effects were arguably much stronger in the Northern
Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere (Proxies
and Proxy-Based Reconstructions section). In a two-
dimensional aerosol model study using a sulfate
injection rate determined from ice cores, Arfeuille
et al.
found a strongly asymmetric distribution of
hemispheric aerosol loading after the Tambora erup-
tion. Owing to the timing of the Tambora eruption,
at the start of the Southern Hemisphere winter sea-
son, they found that the majority of the aerosol load
was transported southward, albeit stratospheric cir-
culation in 1815 is of course unknown and was pre-
scribed in the model based on more recent data. The
hemispheric partitioning of aerosols thus remains an
open question. Greenland and Antarctic deposition
efciencies (the ratio of sulfate ux to each ice sheet
to the maximum hemispheric stratospheric sulfate
aerosol burden) vary as a function of the magnitude
and season of stratospheric sulfur injection.
Based on ice core-based estimates, the Tambora
injection was about 3.5 times larger than the
1991 Pinatubo eruption, but the resulting radiative
forcing was only about two times higher, assuming
that the larger SO
injection produced larger aerosol
particles, with resulting smaller lifetimes and less
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impact on radiation per unit mass.
The peak net
radiative forcing from Tambora was about
(dened as global downward short-wave
radiative forcing at the tropopause
or global top-
of-atmosphere downward net radiation anoma-
). The climate response to this thick aerosol
cloud is discussed in the following sections.
Widespread meteorological observations across much
of Western and Central Europe began in the
Longer series have been developed at the
monthly timescale for a number of locations extend-
ing back to the 17th century.
More recent work
has seen this development extended to the daily
ranging from Iberia in the west to
European Russia in the east. By the 18th century,
efforts to develop distinct meteorological networks
had emerged due to the urgings and coordination of
the Royal Society in England (by the Societys Secre-
tary James Jurin), from the medical fraternity in
France (by the Societe Royale de Medecine
17761789), in Bavaria (by the Bavarian Academy
of Science 17811789, in the Bayerische Ephemeri-
den) and across Europe (under the Societas Meteoro-
logica Palatina in Mannheim, 17811792), even
enabling weather maps to be drawn for this dec-
The Mannheim Ephemerides, reporting subda-
ily meteorological observations from a network of up
to 50 stations, ended in 1792 due to the Napoleonic
Wars, and the availability of material for the 1800s
and 1810s is somewhat less extensive than the two
earlier decades and since the 1820s. Briffa and
presented temperature anomaly maps for the
four seasons during 1816 and for the 1810s
(18101819) with respect to 19511970 for tempera-
ture and 19211960 for precipitation. These were
based on 46 temperature and 29 precipitation series.
The precipitation series were restricted to Poland
westwards, but temperature data were available at
Archangel, Vilnius, St Petersburg, Kiev and Kazan
east of Poland. In Figure 3, we update these results
using more recently produced series from Europe and
extend the independently reconstructed sea-level
pressure, temperature, and precipitation maps
encompass more areas of the North-
Atlantic-European region than available in 1992.
Atmospheric circulation in the summer of 1816
was characterized by a weak Azores high and a
strong Icelandic low (Figure 3, top). Sea-level pressure
reconstructions based on land station pressure series
and information from ship log books from the eastern
North Atlantic
reveal below normal pressure over
the North Atlantic European region (30W40E
and 3070N) connected with more frequent low-
Sea-level pressure (hPa)
Precipitation (%)
1. 5
30W 20W 10W 0 10E 20E 30E 40E
30W 20W 10W 0 10E 20E 30E 40E
30W 20W 10W 010E
20E 30E 40E
Temperature (K)
FIGURE 3 |(Top): Sea-level pressure (contour lines, in hPa) and
anomalies (stippled lines; in hPa) for summer (June-August) 1816
statistically reconstructed using station pressure series in combination
with ship log book information from the northeastern North Atlantic
(data from Küttel et al.
). (Middle): temperature anomalies (in C) for
summer 1816 statistically reconstructed using station temperature
series only (data from Casty et al.
). (Bottom): precipitation (in % of
the 19611990 average) for summer 1816 statistically reconstructed
using station precipitation series only (data from Casty et al.
Temperature and precipitation reconstructions in the outer margins of
Europe and the Mediterranean are less certain due to the lack of
meteorological station information for those areas. All anomalies are
with respect to 19611990.
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pressure systems and generally a stronger westerly
and northwesterly air ow toward Europe.
For temperature (Figure 3, middle), the most
anomalous cold summer temperatures were centered
on Switzerland and eastern France. The summer of
1816 was one of the coldest summers measured over
much of Western Europe from Central Scandinavia to
the Mediterranean. Further east the few series in
Russia and the Ukraine indicate a milder summer in
1816. This might be due to more southerly atmos-
pheric ow from Northern Africa through Turkey to
western Russia (Figure 3, top). Anomalous low pres-
sure over large parts of the North Atlantic and
Europe (Figure 3, top) was connected with excessive
rainfall across most of Western Europe, north of the
Mediterranean. Particularly in southeast England and
northeastern France (Figure 3, bottom), this summer
was most anomalously wet. European instrumental
averages indicate that the 1810s were the coldest dec-
ade since comparable records began in the 1780s.
Most years within the 1810s would be classed as cold
(relative to 19611990), but 2 years, 1814 and 1816
stand out as being exceptionally cold. Part of this was
probably due to the unknown eruption in 1808/
that is clearly evident in ice core series.
The year without a summer of 1816 has also
been extensively studied in these single site records
(see papers in Harington
). More recent work has
used series where the subdaily data have now been
The analysis of twice-daily data from
which is located in the region with the lar-
gest negative temperature anomaly in 1816 in Europe
(see Pster,
Trigo et al.,
and Figure 3), shows that
the afternoon temperature anomalies (compared to
the contemporary reference period 17991821, with-
out the volcanically perturbed years 18091811 and
18151817) were more strongly affected than the
morning temperatures. The entire distribution of tem-
perature anomalies was shifted by 3.8C compared
to the reference period. For the sunrise temperature,
a smaller shift (-1.8C) was found, with a distinct
narrowing of the distribution. Extremely low sunrise
temperatures were as rare in 1816 as in the reference
period, but warmer than average sunrise tempera-
tures were missing.
Both the larger change in after-
noon temperatures and the change in the distribution
can be explained by an increase in cloud cover,
which is well documented and can in turn be related
to a signicant change in weather types. For Geneva,
a tripling of low pressuresituations and an absence
of high pressuresituations was observed as illus-
trated by the pressure reconstruction in Figure 3. Pre-
cipitation in Geneva in summer 1816 increased by
80% but with no change in the intensity distribution,
that is, the frequency of precipitation days
Analysis of this single site suggests that
the summer 1816 was characterized by extreme cli-
mate (weather types statistics) and not extreme
weather (the tails of the distributions were not much
affected). Subdaily pressure data from around 50 sites
in Europe and North America show an increased syn-
optic activity (measured by a 26 days bandpass lter
and expressed relative to a present day climatology)
in a band stretching from western France to Austria.
This suggests increased storminess due to frequent
passages of storms, consistent with the space-time
pattern of precipitation.
These anomalies in weather
patterns found in the observations are qualitatively
consistent with model studies (see Section MODEL-
ERUPTION), although presumably a large fraction of
unforced variability contributed.
Other long daily series across Europe have also
been analyzed. The most well-known temperature
series is the Central England Temperature (CET)
series, which extends back on a monthly timescale to
1659 and to 1772 at the daily timescale.
just on the JJA summer, 1816 stands out as the cold-
est summer of the 1810s and in the long CET series as
the third coldest summer since 1659 (colder summers
were measured in 1725 and 1695). Figure 4 shows
the daily temperatures during 1816 compared to
those in the most recent complete year (2014) which
was the warmest year in the CET series. For 1816
only a few days were above the 196190 period, with
only 1 week in the spring and summer (in late April)
being above. 2014, in contrast, experienced only a
few days below average. Averaged annually, the
2 years differ by only 3.0C, with 1816 having an
average of 7.9C and 2014 an average of 10.9C.
Whilst much of Europe was exceedingly cold
and wet during the summer of 1816 (in agreement
with the consistent lower than average pressures,
Figure 3 top), the entire North Atlantic European
region (shown in Figure 3, land-only) was much closer
to average (see also Figure 3). Temperatures were
average in the far north of Sweden
and above
normal at St Petersburg.
Further aeld, the summer
was known to be very cold in New England (3.0C
below the 19611990 average at Boston,
where it is
referred to as the Year Without a Summer). Recent
model-constrained reconstructions indicate that over
a large part of eastern North America, temperatures
were 2C below the 17001890 average.
Estimates of the temperature impacts of Tam-
bora over a wider spatial scale are available from
marine observations.
The English East India Com-
pany maintained a eet of ships trading between
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Britain and southeastern Asia over a long period, and
between about 1794 and 1833 many of these ships
recorded noon temperatures in their logs. These obser-
vations allow annual temperature variability to be
reconstructed over a large area of the Atlantic and
Indian Oceans.
The year 1816 was the coldest year
over this region, for this period, with an anomaly of
about 0.6C compared to the 17941833 period aver-
age (the second coldest year was 1809, also volcani-
cally inuenced by the unknown 1808/1809 eruption).
Shipslogs also provide climate information
from other regions. The Hudsons Bay Company
ships traveled between Britain and trading posts in
Hudsons Bay in present-day Canada. These ships did
not record instrumental weather observations, but
their logs do provide rich information on the sea-ice
conditions in Hudson Strait over the period
17511870. Sea-ice conditions were more severe in
1816 than in any other year in this record.
ever, these extreme ice conditions are arguably more
likely to be a result of anomalous local circulation
than of large-scale temperature changes
this is
illustrated by the contrasting observations of William
Scoresby Jr
: Scoresby recorded temperatures on
whaling voyages in the Greenland Sea every summer
from 1810 to 1818 and these observations indicate
that 1816 was a relatively warm year, with less than
the usual sea-ice coverage.
Scoresby emphasized this
in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal
Society, stating: I observed on my last voyage (1817)
about 2000 square leagues [18 000 square miles] of
the surface of the Greenland seas, included between
the parallels of 74and 80, perfectly void of ice, all
of which disappeared within the last two years.
The instrumental observations clearly show the
expected moderate large-scale cooling effect of the
eruption, but also demonstrate that local effects can
be quite different from the large-scale mean, and
sometimes much more extreme. However, for much
of the world in 1816, no instrumental observation
records are currently available, so we must turn to
proxy data to see what happened in those regions.
Apart from instrumental information, natural
sources can provide further information on the sum-
mer temperature and precipitation conditions in
1816. From statistically reconstructed global or
Northern Hemispheric annual mean temperature
it becomes obvious that
1816 was among the coldest years of the past centu-
ries. However, the various published reconstructions
disagree about the amplitude of the anomaly.
pared to the 19611990 period, estimates range from
0.66 0.24C (standard deviation) for Northern
Hemisphere temperature,
to 1.14C for the tem-
perature between 30and 90N
and 1.9C for the
Northern Hemisphere
(differences relative to
17851815 are much smaller, in the range of 0.4 to
0.8C). It is important that in most reconstructions,
the summer of 1816 followed a period with a nega-
tive temperature trend. The early 1810s were possi-
bly already being inuenced by the volcano in 1808/
1809 and the lower solar insolation during the Dal-
ton Minimum (17901830).
Januar y
–10 Daily Central England Temperature (Parker & Horton 2005)
1961–1990 smoothed normals
1961–1990 smoothed 5th & 95th percentiles
Daily Central England Temperature (Parker & Horton 2005)
1961–1990 smoothed normals
1961–1990 smoothed 5th & 95th percentiles
Temperature (°C)
Temperature (°C)
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
FIGURE 4 |Daily Central England temperatures for each day of
the year for 1816 and 2014. Absolute temperatures are shown in blue
and these can be compared with average values based on the
19611990 period. Apart from averages, the panels for the 2 years
also show a number of percentile ranges (5/95) to illustrate how
unusual some days are with respect to the distribution of individual
days based on the 19611990 period.
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Most natural proxies (e.g., trees, lake/marine
varves) and historical records
tell us about condi-
tions in the summer, and it is this season that had the
largest impact in 1816 across Europe and eastern
North America. Information from tree rings provides
indications about mean summer climate across the
boreal forest zones of North America and Eurasia.
Tree ring density is currently the most accurate proxy
for the interannual temperature response to volcanic
Using tree ring density data, Briffa
et al.
showed positive temperature anomalies over
parts of western America, but cold and very cold
conditions around the rest of the mid latitudes of the
Northern Hemisphere. This is in agreement with
other tree ring-based summer temperature recon-
structions that indicate strong summer cooling in
1816 in large parts of the Arctic, Northern Europe,
eastern North America, and Asia.
This change
in the pattern of anomalies suggests a different
Rossby-wave pattern during this summer than expe-
rienced in most summers during the last 200 years.
For the winter 1816/1817, climate eld recon-
structions suggest a winter warming
similar to the
temperature pattern found in composite analysis of
strong volcanic eruptions during the last 500 years.
The reason for this warming is the North Atlantic
Oscillation (NAO) which develops a positive phase
after a volcanic eruption, that is, enhanced westerlies
over the Atlantic European region. This dynamical
response is conrmed by a recent NAO reconstruc-
tion showing a positive phase of the NAO in the win-
ter 1816/1817.
While the proxies from the Northern Hemi-
sphere land areas generally show substantial cooling
in 1816, Tamboras temperature imprint in the
Southern Hemisphere appears to be substantially
weaker. Hemispheric temperatures
do not show a
signicant cooling in the years following the erup-
tion, neither do regional reconstructions from South
America, Australasia, and Antarctica.
This weak
response is generally consistent for large volcanic
eruptions over the past centuries. As the Southern
Hemisphere is mostly covered by oceans and its land
masses are distributed more toward lower latitudes
than their northern counterparts, a weaker and less
immediate climatic response to volcanic eruptions is
expected. Modes of internal variability, particularly
of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the
Southern Annular Mode (SAM) have a very strong
inuence on the Southern Hemisphere continents.
Reconstructions of the SAM
do not indicate a sig-
nicant response to volcanic eruptions. A shift of
ENSO toward an El-Niño state is found in some
However, it does not stand out of internal
variability, which is generally larger than externally
forced inuences.
This nonresponse in key circula-
tion modes may explain the weak imprint of volcanic
eruptions on continental temperatures in the South-
ern Hemisphere. These ndings from the Southern
Hemisphere are not in agreement with many climate
models, which usually nd volcanic cooling of simi-
lar amplitude in both hemispheres.
Thus, current
climate models tend to overemphasize interhemi-
spheric synchronicity by underestimating the inu-
ence of internal variability particularly in the
Southern Hemisphere.
However, the temporal and
spatial proxy data coverage is still much weaker in
the Southern Hemisphere compared to Europe and
North America. Hence, the apparent absence of vol-
canic cooling in the Southern Hemisphere may be an
artifact of the low number of records able to resolve
short-term peaks of climatic anomalies. Alternatively
(though not supported by ice cores), the amount of
aerosols reaching the Southern Hemisphere might
have been smaller than assumed in these models.
Recent coral-based reconstructions of tropical
SSTs in the Indian, West and East Pacic Oceans
show the coldest temperatures over the past
400 years in the early 19th century.
While only the
Indian Ocean displays a distinct interannual cold
anomaly after the Tambora eruption, the decadal-
scale cooling starts around 1800 in all three basins,
indicating that Tambora amplies, rather than trig-
gers the cold period. However, the level of this ampli-
cation via volcanic eruptions cannot be quantied
with reconstructions alone.
Drought reconstructions have been produced
based on tree ring information from North America
and for South Asia.
The Monsoon Asia Drought
Atlas for MaySeptember 1816 shows dry conditions
in India and South Eastern Asia (weakening of the
monsoon) and anomalous wet conditions in northern
parts of Asia.
This is partly consistent with multi-
proxy (tree rings, historical documentary records,
and ice cores) MaySeptember precipitation recon-
structions by Feng et al.
The North America
Drought Atlas for 1816 indicates wet conditions in
the US Southwest (though mainly a winter response)
and summer drought in the East.
Climate models are an important tool to study the
mechanisms of Tamboras impact on climate.
fact, model results for the Tambora eruption agree
with sparse observations and proxy data in some
For a more comprehensive
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understanding of the mechanisms, results need to be
reconciled with those found for other strong tropical
volcanic eruptions. In agreement with observations
and reconstructions, climate modeling studies show a
drop in near-surface temperature of about 1C over
the global land areas after the Tambora eruption
(Tables 1 and 2). The temperature minimum lags
behind the aerosol optical depth maximum by about
2 years and gradually returns to climatological mean
values after 610 years (Figure 5 for Northern Hemi-
sphere temperatures). The ocean cools less than the
land due to its greater heat capacity. As a result of
reduced near-surface temperatures, simulated North-
ern hemispheric sea ice is increased and peaks
37 years after the eruption.
The temperature reduction goes along with a
slowdown of the global water cycle.
precipitation is simulated to decrease by about
0.12 mm/day after the eruption. Again, the water cycle
response over land is stronger than over the ocean due
to the less strong ocean cooling. Model studies of
Tamboras climate effects suggest that the water cycle
response mainly affected the tropical rainforest and
ocean regions,
which is in line with model studies of
other large eruptions.
Tambora modeling stud-
ies further imply that the change in the land-sea ther-
mal contrast weakens the monsoonal circulations and
leads to drying in monsoon regions.
Volcanic erup-
tions may also change the temperature gradient
between the hemispheres. As a consequence, model
simulations indicate a southward movement of the
Intertropical Convergence Zone due to the increased
cooling of the Northern Hemisphere landmasses as
compared to the Southern Hemisphere oceans.
TABLE 1 |Overview of Tambora modelling studies indicating the forcings used and peak temperature changes over global land areas.
Estimates Indicated by Are Not Explicitly Given in the Cited Studies, But Have Been Calculated for This Publication
Study Aerosol/Forcing Model
Size Peak
T [K] Duration
Tambora-only sensitivity studies:
Stenchikov et al. (2009)
3×Pinatubo optical depth
(Stenchikov et al., 1998)
GFDL CM2.1 10 1.2 0.1 10 years
Zanchettin et al. (2013)
Crowley et al. (2008),
Crowley and Unterman (2013)
MPI-ESM 10 0.875 0.15 8 years
Kandlbauer et al. (2013)
Crowley et al. (2008)
HadGEM2-ES 5 1.0 0.1 10 years
Anet et al. (2014)
Arfeuille et al. (2014)
SOCOL-MPIOM 3 0.89 0.35
6 years
Muthers et al. (2014)
Arfeuille et al. (2014)
SOCOL-MPIOM 15 0.88 0.16/
0.80 0.26
67 years
Tambora in transient climate simulations driven only by volcanic forcing:
Otto-Bliesner et al. (2015)
Gao et al. (2008)
CESM-CAM5 5 0.95 0.12
6 years
Schurer et al. (2013)
Crowley and Unterman (2013)
HadCM3 3 1.30 0.05
7 years
Tambora in transient climate simulations with all major external forcings:
This study see Table 2 PMIP3/CMIP5
mean (see
Table 2)
11 1.05 0.38 8 years
Tambora anomalies for all transient simulations were calculated relative to the less perturbed period of 17701799. The PMIP3/CMIP5 multimodel estimates
are based on a number of transient simulations for the last millennium (CCSM4 [1], GISS-E2-R [3], IPSL-CM5A-LR [1], MPI-ESM-P [1]) and an ensemble of
pre-CMIP3 simulations (COSMOS [5]). See Table 2 for the details.
TABLE 2 |Summary of the Past Millennium Simulations Used to Calculate the PMIP3/CMIP5 Multimodel Estimatefor Table 1
Model Runs Volcanic Forcing Reference
CCSM4 1 Gao et al. (2008)
Landrum et al. (2013)
GISS-E2-R 3 Gao et al. (2008),
Crowley and Unterman (2013)
Schmidt et al. (2014)
IPSL-CM5A-LR 1 Ammann et al. (2007)
Dufresne et al. (2013)
MPI-ESM-P 1 Crowley and Unterman (2013)
Jungclaus et al. (2014)
COSMOS 5 Crowley et al. (2008)
Jungclaus et al. (2010)
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Simulated regional scale temperature and precip-
itation responses to large tropical eruptions at
mid latitudes are heterogeneous. In summer, Western
and Central Europe become cool, but not Eastern
Furthermore, an increase of summer precip-
itation is simulated over Southcentral Europe.
Both responses, which are also found in Tambora
simulations, are consistent with observations and
The increase in precipitation
might be due to a weakening and expansion of the
Hadley Cell after the eruption.
Winter precipitation is reduced in Central and
Western Europe as well as over the US East Coast
and large parts of the Northern Pacic after large
eruptions, but increased over Northern Europe, con-
sistent with a positive NAO.
This is consistent with
The winter warming in Northeastern Europe
and positive NAO response following strong tropical
eruptions, which is well known from observations
and reconstructions,
is no longer well reproduced
by climate models.
An overall reduction of win-
ter 500-hPa geopotential height is found in the
ensemble mean of simulations, but individual model
members are able to resemble the positive NAO
structure of the reconstructions with increased geo-
potential height over Southern Europe and strongly
negative anomalies over Iceland.
an intensication of the polar vortex after the Tam-
bora eruption is simulated,
which is hypothesized
as the underlying process of the positive NAO and
winter warming signal.
The starting point of this mechanism is the
stratosphere, where sulfate aerosols locally heat the
air by absorbing terrestrial infrared as well as solar
and terrestrial near-infrared radiation and reduce the
transfer of short-wave radiation into lower levels.
When the aerosols enter the stratosphere at tropical
latitudes as for Tambora they are lifted and globally
distributed by the BrewerDobson circulation. Ini-
tially most aerosols reside in the tropical stratosphere.
This unequal distribution of aerosols leads to unequal
distribution in absorbed radiation, which perturbs the
meridional and vertical temperature gradients in the
stratosphere. In winter, where the temperature distri-
bution has a strong inuence on the dynamics, the
polar vortex is strengthened and the vertical propaga-
tion of planetary waves is altered.
The down-
ward propagation of these pronounced dynamical
changes is held responsible for the winter warming
signal over Northern to Central Europe.
In comparison to the 2.5C warming observed
in the tropical stratosphere after Mount Pinatubo,
a stronger warming after Tambora is likely, although
the warming cannot be expected to scale linearly
with the aerosol mass, because the response also
depends on the microphysical properties of the aero-
Modeling studies suggest temperature
anomalies about two to four times that of
but the response depends also on
the climate model and aerosol forcing applied. Simi-
larly, an intensication of the Northern Hemisphere
polar vortex can be expected
favoring positive
surface temperature anomalies in parts of the
NH SAT anomalies rel. to 1770–1799 [K]
1800 1810
Year AD
1820 1830
Otto–Bliesner et al. (2015)
Schurer et al. (2014)
This study
1840 1850
FIGURE 5 |Ensemble mean NH temperature anomalies in a number of transient simulations for the past millennium. See Table 1 for a
description of the models and volcanic forcing. Anomalies were calculated relative to the period 17701799.
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Northern Hemisphere higher latitudes in winter.
The strong forcing of the Tambora eruption is suf-
cient to induce wind anomalies that can alter the
propagation of planetary waves leading to a strength-
ening of the polar vortex.
Besides the dynamical perturbation in the strat-
osphere, the aerosols are also known to provide sur-
faces for a number of heterogeneous chemical
reactions that affect the chemical composition of the
stratosphere. After recent eruptions, pronounced
reductions of ozone were observed,
which are
suggested to amplify the dynamic response of the
For Tambora, however, the
response of the ozone chemistry is assumed to be dif-
ferent. With low concentrations of ozone-depleting
substances a slight increase of ozone concentrations
is expected
(Figure 6) with no pronounced inu-
ences on stratospheric dynamics.
the choice of the ozone dataset in climate model
simulations has been shown to have substantial effect
on the dynamic response to the Tambora eruption.
Large volcanic eruptions like Tambora can
impact the ocean. Their signals in ocean heat content
may persist for decades, well beyond the lifetime of
stratospheric aerosols.
The Tambora eruption
arguably coincided with an El Niño event,
was also the case for the majority of other strong
tropical volcanic eruptions during the last 500 years.
This has raised the question of whether volcanic erup-
tions can excite El Niño events.
with a climate model of intermediate complexity show
that only volcanic eruptions larger than the Pinatubo
size can enhance the likelihood and amplitude of an El
Niño event.
McGregor and Timmermann
gested that while the dynamical thermostat mechanism
(i.e., the regulation of tropical Pacic sea surface tem-
peratures (SSTs) through a change in the zonal tem-
perature gradient and wind stress
) favors El Niño
events in simplied, spatially uniform set-ups, the
spatial gradients in mixed-layer depth, cloud albedo
and other variables modify the response and counter-
act the El Niño-like response. CMIP5 historical simu-
lations provide an opportunity to study this effect in a
multimodel ensemble. While Ding et al.
found only
a weak effect, Maher et al. found an El Niño response
in the year following volcanic eruptions, and then a
La Ninã 2 years later.
Stenchikov et al.
and Ottera et al.
that major eruptions strengthen the Atlantic Meridio-
nal Overturning Circulation by a Sverdrup or more
on multidecadal timescales, and consequently
increase the northward heat transport. Possible
mechanisms for the increase include changes in
winter-time wind stress and density increases of polar
surface waters. However, the models vary greatly in
their simulated response.
cooling events, possibly also strong volcanic erup-
tions like Tambora, may trigger a coupled sea ice-
oceanatmosphere feedback in the North Atlantic
and the Nordic Seas.
The background state of the climate system
may play an important role in the post volcanic
response characteristics of the coupled sea ice-ocean
atmosphere. The decade 18101819 was unusually
cold in the Northern Hemisphere and the tropics due
to the combined effects of the unknown 1808/1809
–20 –10 –8 –4 –2 0
Column ozone anomalies [DU]
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
Januar y
Present day Pre-industrial
10 20 30–30
FIGURE 6 |Zonal mean column ozone changes [DU] by heterogeneous chemical reactions in an ensemble of atmosphereocean-chemistry
climate simulations for a 4×Pinatubo eruption in a present day (left) and preindustrial (right) atmosphere (modied from Muthers et al.
Vertical dashed line indicates the beginning of the eruption. Signicant anomalies with respect to an ensemble of control simulations are shown
by stippling.
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and Tambora eruptions
and possibly decreased
solar activity. Zanchettin et al.
demonstrated for
the early 19th century that background conditions
have the potential to inuence the decadal climate
response to strong tropical volcanic eruptions. Near-
surface atmospheric and especially oceanic dynamics
in a set of MPI-ESM ensemble simulations evolve sig-
nicantly differently after the eruption under differ-
ent background conditions (Figure 7). In particular,
large interensemble member differences are found in
the post-Tambora decadal evolution of oceanic heat
transport and sea ice in the North Atlantic/Arctic
Ocean. They reveal the existence of multiple response
pathways after strong volcanic eruptions that depend
on background conditions prior to the eruptions.
Zanchettin et al.
showed that for very large
volcanic eruptions, contradictory to the Arctic, Ant-
arctic sea ice reacts mostly to dynamical atmospheric
Global surface net radiative flux anomaly Global near–surface air temperature anomaly
Ocean heat transport into Nordic Seas
Northern Hemisphere sea–ice cover
(c) (d)
(a) (b)
FIGURE 7 |Simulated global climate evolution of different variables in a 10 member ensemble of simulations including all natural and
anthropogenic forcing (black), a 10 member ensemble with only volcanic forcing including the Tambora and the preceding 1808/1809 eruption
(red), and a 10 member ensemble with only volcanic forcing without the 1808/1809 eruption (blue). The all forcing simulations are started in 1751
from initial conditions taken from the COSMOS-Mil experiments,
the volcanic forcing only from a control run for 800 AD conditions. Lines
indicate means. Shading indicates one standard error of the mean. Green dashed lines are the 5th95th percentile intervals for signal occurrence
in the control run (see second section). The inner dotted lines are the 10th90th percentile intervals. Magenta vertical lines indicate the occurrence
of the 1808/1809 and Tambora and Cosiguina eruptions. Bottom rectangles indicate periods when there is a signicant difference between an
ensemble (color same as for time series) and the other two. Positive surface net radiative ux anomalies correspond to increased downward ux.
The unit of the ocean heat transport is 1 TW = 10
W. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 81. Copyright 2013 John Wiley and Sons)
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changes initiated by the volcanically induced
strengthening of the Southern Hemispheres strato-
spheric polar vortex (positive SAM) and to local
feedback processes. After an initial post volcanic
short-lived expansion Antarctic sea ice undergoes a
prolonged contraction phase. Very large volcanic
forcing may therefore be a source of interhemispheric
interannual-to-decadal climate variability, although
the interhemispheric signature is weak in the case of
historical-size eruptions like Tambora.
Large volcanic eruptions, such as Tambora,
may also impact the carbon cycle.
The response
of the terrestrial biosphere and ocean biogeochemis-
try to volcanic eruptions sensitively depends on
changes in solar radiation (direct and diffuse), tem-
perature, precipitation, res, and atmospheric and
oceanic circulation. Although the exact mechanisms
causing a decrease in atmospheric CO
after volcanic
eruptions are poorly known, it is likely that the Tam-
bora eruption caused a decrease in atmospheric CO
concentration of a few ppm on decadal time-
It is also very likely that the volcanic
emissions of CO
during the Tambora eruption have
not signicantly impacted atmospheric CO
In modeling and atmospheric inversion studies,
focusing mainly on the Pinatubo eruption, the terres-
trial biosphere has been identied as the main driver
of atmospheric CO
changes, with minor temporary
contributions of the ocean.
However, the
exact mechanisms (net primary production vs respi-
ration) by which the terrestrial biosphere drives a
decadal-scale decrease in atmospheric CO
as well as
the geographical distribution of changes are poorly
known (low latitudes vs high northern latitudes).
Modeling studies suggest that the sulfate aerosol-
induced cooling reduces heterotrophic respiration in
tropical and subtropical soils.
increased soil carbon storage dominates over reduced
litter input due to precipitation and soil moisture
decrease and ultimately leads to increased terrestrial
carbon uptake and decreases in atmospheric CO
Other studies suggest more carbon uptake in north-
ern high latitudes,
or no change,
some studies predict a carbon source due to
decreased net primary production.
The ocean initially acts as a weak carbon sink
after a volcanic eruption, which is primarily due to
temperature-induced increase in CO
solubility in
low-latitude shallow waters. After the cooling signal
fades, the ocean is suggested to quickly transform
itself from a weak carbon sink to a weak carbon
In addition to the suggested temperature and
precipitation driven changes on land, several studies
also suggest that an increase in diffuse radiation after
volcanic eruptions may enhance the terrestrial carbon
sink via enhanced net primary production.
Others argue that this effect was probably only able
to compensate for the reduction in total radiation.
Recent laboratory experiments and direct evidence in
the North Pacic also indicate that the deposition of
volcanic ash on the oceanic surface may increase net
primary production in the ocean,
but the
impact on atmospheric CO
remains unclear.
Most current coupled climate models do not include
these effects.
Although reconstructions from Antarctic ice
cores do not reveal signicant changes in CO
the Tambora eruption, which may be due to low
sampling resolution and diffusion within the archive,
modeling studies suggest that atmospheric CO
decreased by about 6 ppm after the Tambora erup-
The maximum decrease is delayed by a
couple of years compared to changes in sulfate aero-
sols and atmospheric temperature. The recovery of
the atmospheric CO
concentration takes longer than
for the bulk change in temperature as longer time-
scales are involved in the biogeochemical cycles than
in the physical processes of the atmosphere and the
surface ocean. Similarly to the ocean response
described above, Frölicher et al.
found that the
carbon cycle response to volcanic eruptions critically
depends on the initial conditions at the time of the
eruption, with a larger atmospheric CO
when volcanic eruptions occur during El Niño and in
winter than during La Niña conditions.
Since 1815 the world has not been faced with an
eruption of a similar strength as that of Tambora.
Still, the eruption has received great attention in the
sciences as it provides a rich testbed to deepen our
understanding of processes during enormous erup-
tions and related distant impacts. Certainly mankind
will be faced with such events in the future. The
bicentenary of the Tambora eruption provides a per-
fect opportunity to reconcile our current understand-
ing and to place the Tambora-specicndings in a
broader context of processes that are relevant during
and after volcanic eruptions.
During recent decades, processes during and
after Tambora have been intensively investigated,
narrowing down the potential volume to
~3050 km
The injection height might have
been up to 40 km, but the NBH (which is relevant
for the emissions) was more likely about 25 km. Still,
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the volume and particularly the interhemispheric dis-
tribution of the aerosols, as well as particles sizes, are
not well constrained and uncertainties about the
exact values remain.
Not only does the climate forcing of the Tam-
bora eruption have remaining uncertainties, but also
the details of the climate response. Instrumental data
give a detailed picture of weather and climate in spe-
cic regions following the eruption and allow addres-
sing, for example, increased synoptic activity over
Western Europe in the summer of 1816. However,
the instrumental data cover only Europe and parts of
North America. Nevertheless, advances in digitizing
early measurements from land and oceans and an
increasing network of highly resolved records from
different proxy archives have led to a better global
coverage of climate information in 1816 showing a
widespread reduction of surface air temperatures and
implications of the hydrological cycle in sensitive
areas like the monsoon regions. One key nding
from climate proxies is the absence of a strong Tam-
bora signal in the extratropical Southern Hemi-
sphere, while it is clearly expressed in the Northern
Hemisphere and Tropics. This is particularly intri-
guing as aerosol model studies suggest that transport
of aerosols was stronger toward the Southern Hemi-
sphere than the Northern Hemisphere and ice core
studies suggest equal partitioning or stronger trans-
port toward the Southern Hemisphere.
Modeling studies allow addressing possible,
physically consistent mechanisms, which may have
caused the observed signal. Simulations are able to
reproduce many aspects of post-Tambora climate as
found in observations and proxies. The mechanisms
are mostly the same as found for other strong tropi-
cal eruptions that are better constrained by observa-
tions (such as the Pinatubo eruption in 1991), but
the simulated signal is stronger. However, results are
sensitive to some of the uncertain parameters men-
tioned above. Hence, for future eruptions, one needs
to take these parameters into account to cover the
full uncertainty range. Moreover, climate model
simulations indicate that background conditions,
such as the preceding 1808/1809 eruption
(unknown) and possibly the Dalton Minimum of
solar activity were important for the climatic conse-
quences of the Tambora eruption, which also needs
to be taken into account when anticipating effects of
future eruptions.
The effect of volcanic eruptions on the biogeo-
chemical cycles has become an interesting research
topic. In particular, the simulated carbon cycle
response triggers a range of important new questions
for future research.
To advance our current understanding of the
dominant mechanisms behind simulated posteruption
climate evolution, but also more generally, of climate
dynamics and decadal variability, an international
model intercomparison project on the climatic
response to volcanic forcing (VolMIP)
has been
established for the 6th cycle of the Coupled Model
Intercomparison Project (CMIP6). In VolMIP, the
1815 Tambora eruption has been chosen as core
experiment, to address the long-term (up to the deca-
dal timescale) climate response to large volcanic
eruptions featuring a high signal-to-noise ratio in the
response of global-average surface temperature.
Although an improved knowledge about the climate
response after the Tambora eruption is expected
from the VOLMIP activity, it might still be a chal-
lenge to explain all observed regional climate
During the past decades, our scientic under-
standing of the Tambora eruption has grown tremen-
dously, and from studying the Tambora eruption,
science has gained insights into many complex
mechanisms operating in the climate system. Insights
have also been gained on sensitivity of the system to
boundary conditions, which is important for
enabling society to be prepared for future eruptions.
In this sense, science will undoubtedly keep learning
from Tambora.
This paper is dedicated to the memory of Tom Crowley, who made substantial contributions to the under-
standing of the role of volcanic eruptions in the Earth system. We thank NCAR and the supercomputing
resources provided by NSF/CISL/Yellowstone for providing data from the CESM1 Last Millennium Ensemble
Community Project. S. Muthers was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation Sinergia Project FUP-
SOL2 (CRSII2-147659). R. Auchmann was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation Project
TWIST. C. Timmreck acknowledges funding from the BMBF project MIKLIP (FKZ:01LP1130A). R. Neukom
is funded by the SNSF (Ambizione grant PZ00P2_154802), T. L. Frölicher acknowledges nancial support
from the SNSF (Ambizione grant PZ00P2_142573). P. Brohan was supported by the Joint UK DECC/Defra
Met Ofce Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). A. Robock is supported by US National Science
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Foundation grant AGS-1430051. A. Schurer and D. Zanchettin have provided model data. This paper was
partly the result of a conference supported by sponsored by the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research
of the University of Bern, the Swiss National Science Foundation, PAGES, SPARC, the Swiss Academy of
Sciences, and the Johanna Dürmüller-Bol Foundation. We thank Leonie Villiger for her help in the preparation
of the manuscript.
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WIREs Climate Change Tambora 1815 as a test case for high impact volcanic eruptions
© 2016 The Authors.
WIREs Climate Change
published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
... Eruptions occurred in 1693 (Hekla, Serua) and 1694 (Komagatake), and although winters following volcanic eruptions sometimes show a winter warming in north-eastern Europe, this dynamical effect does not always appear, and cold seasons following volcanic eruptions may also be cold. The summer case (1695) shows the cooling expected following a volcanic eruption (Raible et al., 2016); documentary data confirm this also on a hemispheric scale . Whether cold winters and cold summers in the 1690s are related remains to be studied. ...
... Whether cold winters and cold summers in the 1690s are related remains to be studied. There are several possible memory effects that might help to maintain the cooling from the summer to the next winter and spring, including the oceans (Raible et al., 2016) and Eurasian snow cover (Reichen et al., 2022). All factors together may have generated a decade of cold weather similar to the early 19th century (Brönnimann et al., 2019b), when both summers and winters were cold particularly over Eurasia. ...
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Data from weather diaries have long been used to reconstruct past climate. However, they could also be used to reconstruct past weather. Weather reconstructions could help us to better understand the mechanisms behind, and impacts of, climatic changes. However, reconstructing the day-to-day weather requires many diaries from different regions covering the same period, ideally combined with instrumental measurements. In this paper, I describe the weather diary of Georg Christoph Eimmart from Nuremberg, covering the period 1695 to 1704, which was particularly cold in Europe. The diary was imaged from the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg and then digitized. It contains twice-daily weather conditions in symbolic form, wind direction details, and information on precipitation and temperature in text form. Symbols changed during the first 2 years, after which a much-reduced (and stable) set of symbols was used. Re-coding all days according to the later set of symbols, I find no signs of inconsistency over time in symbols, wind direction, and precipitation information extracted from the text. Comparisons with other sources confirm the day-to-day weather information in the diary. For instance, the wind direction in Nuremberg agrees with the daily pressure gradient between Jena and Paris. Three case studies further confirm the meteorological reliability of the information. This is shown on behalf of an 8 d sequence of stormy weather in 1702, a study of the severe winter of 1697/98, and a study of the summer of 1695, which was cold and wet, possibly related to tropical volcanic eruptions. The examples underline the consistency of the weather diary with other information and suggest that weather reconstructions as far back as the late 17th century might become possible. However, the spatial information is limited, and any approach arguably needs to make good use of the temporal sequence of information.
... The numerical scale from 0-8 is logarithmic and generally corresponds to the Richter and other magnitude scales for the size of earthquakes) of seven and an emission of 558 Tg mass of SO 2 . As a result of this eruption, several parts of the world witnessed a "Year without Summer" in 1816 [6,7]. Mount Agung (8 • S, 116 • E), Bali, Indonesia in March 1963; El Chichón (17 • N, 93 • W), Chiapas, Mexico in April 1982; and Mount Pinatubo (15 • N, 120 • E), Luzon, Philippines in June 1991 were the three largest volcanic eruptions that occurred since the late 1950s and had a significant impact on the global climate. ...
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Despite being rare, large volcanic eruptions can have a long-lasting impact on the chemistry, radiation, and dynamics of the stratosphere. This study attempts to quantify the changes in the stratospheric water vapour and its relationship to temperature and ozone observed from space-based Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) observations during the submarine volcano eruption Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai that occurred on 15 January 2022. The most notable aspect of this eruption is the plumes, which are water vapour columns that reached higher altitudes (1 hPa (47.6 km)) than earlier eruptions. We discovered that the eruption injected a record amount of water vapour (6–8 ppmv) directly into the stratosphere from 38–10 hPa vertically, which is present even after one year. The majority of water vapour is confined to the Southern Hemisphere (SH) tropics, i.e., 30°S to 5°N, and gradually descends to the SH polar latitudes over time. The WV from the lower stratosphere reaches mesospheric altitudes during January 2023. We quantify the impact of increased water vapour on temperature and ozone as well. Temperatures begin to fall during the month of March in the regions where there is an increase in water vapour. A ~5 K cooling occurs in July and August as a result of the thermal adjustment to the extra water vapour IR cooling. Our analysis shows a decrease in ozone caused by an increase in water vapour. Significant variability is observed in all three parameters at 26 km compared to other levels. Further, we noticed that after one year of eruption, the water vapour, Temperature and Ozone did not reach the background values. It is possible that this unusual eruption produced a different atmospheric reaction than other significant volcanic eruptions that have been well investigated.
... This pattern is also observed in most of the documentary data in Africa (none of which were assimilated into EKF400v2). The large-scale cooling and the drying of areas influenced by the African monsoon agree with the expected effects of a tropical volcanic eruption 131 . Overall, our analysis shows that our documentary dataset (DOCU-CLIM) 24 can capture spatial climate variability associated with the prominent volcanic eruption of 1835. ...
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Documentary climate data describe evidence of past climate arising from predominantly written historical documents such as diaries, chronicles, newspapers, or logbooks. Over the past decades, historians and climatologists have generated numerous document-based time series of local and regional climates. However, a global dataset of documentary climate time series has never been compiled, and documentary data are rarely used in large-scale climate reconstructions. Here, we present the first global multi-variable collection of documentary climate records. The dataset DOCU-CLIM comprises 621 time series (both published and hitherto unpublished) providing information on historical variations in temperature, precipitation, and wind regime. The series are evaluated by formulating proxy forward models (i.e., predicting the documentary observations from climate fields) in an overlapping period. Results show strong correlations, particularly for the temperature-sensitive series. Correlations are somewhat lower for precipitation-sensitive series. Overall, we ascribe considerable potential to documentary records as climate data, especially in regions and seasons not well represented by early instrumental data and palaeoclimate proxies.
... With limited impacts from anthropogenic greenhouse gas, the on-average low temperature in the early 19th century is believed to be caused mainly by the coincidental existence of strong tropical eruptions (the unidentified 1809 and the 1815 Tambora eruptions; Self et al., 2004;Cole-Dai et al., 2009) and the lower solar irradiance (Dalton minimum from 1790-1830; Usoskin et al., 2002;Silverman and Hayakawa, 2021). Studies have investigated the climate impacts from the 1809 unidentified (Timmreck et al., 2021) and the 1815 Tambora eruptions (Raible et al., 2016;Zanchettin et al., 2019), and the Dalton minimum (Anet et al., 2014). For example, Zanchettin et al. (2019) examined how different strengths of the unidentified 1809 eruption could have altered the cooling caused by the following 1815 Tambora eruption. ...
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The early 19th century was the coldest period over the past 500 years, when strong tropical volcanic events and a solar minimum coincided. The 1809 unidentified eruption and the 1815 Tambora eruption happened consecutively during the Dalton minimum of solar irradiance; however, the relative role of the two forcing (volcano and solar) agents is still unclear. In this study, we examine the responses from a set of early 19th century simulations with combined and separated volcanic and solar forcing agents, as suggested in the protocol for the past1000 experiment of the Paleoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project – Phase 4 (PMIP4). From 20-member ensemble simulations with the Max Planck Institute Earth system model (MPI-ESM1.2-LR), we find that the volcano- and solar-induced surface cooling is additive in the global mean/large scale, regardless of combining or separating the forcing agents. The two solar reconstructions (SATIRE (Spectral and Total Irradiance REconstruction-Millennia model) and PMOD (Physikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos)) contribute to a cooling before and after 1815 of ∼0.05 and ∼0.15 K monthly average near-surface air cooling, respectively, indicating a limited solar contribution to the early 19th century cold period. The volcanic events provide the main cooling contributions, inducing a surface cooling that peaks at ∼0.82 K for the 1809 event and ∼1.35 K for Tambora. After the Tambora eruption, the temperature in most regions increases toward climatology largely within 5 years, along with the reduction of volcanic forcing. In the northern extratropical oceans, the temperature increases slowly at a constant rate until 1830, which is related to the reduction of seasonality and the concurrent changes in Arctic sea-ice extent. The albedo feedback of Arctic sea ice is found to be the main contributor to the Arctic amplification of the cooling signal. Several non-additive responses to solar and volcanic forcing happen on regional scales. In the atmosphere, the stratospheric polar vortex tends to strengthen when combining both volcano and solar forcing, even though the two forcing agents separately induce opposite-sign changes in stratospheric temperatures and zonal winds. In the ocean, when combining the two forcings, additional surface cold water propagates to the northern extratropics from the additional solar cooling in the tropics, which results in regional cooling along the propagation. Overall, this study not only quantifies the surface responses from combinations of the volcano and solar forcing, but also highlights the components that cannot be simply added from the responses of the individual forcing agents, indicating that a relatively small forcing agent (such as solar in early 19th century) can impact the response from the large forcing (such as the 1815 Tambora eruption) when considering regional climates.
The Kashmir region in the western Himalayas is located in a transition zone between areas dominated by the South Asian Summer Monsoon (SASM) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Currently being primarily influenced by westerly disturbances (WDs), the area is important to decipher teleconnections between these two important circulation systems for the assessment of past climate variability. We evaluated climate-growth relationships of Abies pindrow (Royle ex D. Don) and reconstructed April to June (AMJ) self-calibrated Palmer drought severity index (scPDSI) for the south Kashmir region during the period 1643e2016 CE. Our reconstructed scPDSI revealed a long wet phase during 1650e1816 CE, indicating the impact of the Little Ice Age (LIA) over the region, followed by prominent drier post-LIA episodes. The mid 18th century (1730e1760 CE) was the wettest period in the past four centuries, whereas the period 1817 to 1865 CE marked the driest phase. These phases are consistent with other precipitation reconstructions from the WD-dominated western and Trans-Himalayan regions, but inconsistant with summer precipitation reconstructions from the SASM-dominated Himalayan regions. A significant positive correlation between our scPDSI reconstruction and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) for the wet phase of the LIA suggests that the NAO remained dominant in modulating the winter and spring precipitation at the study region. During the 19th and 20th centuries, scPDSI was either weakly or negatively correlated with the NAO index, indicating the influence of other atmospheric circulation systems in driving the spring/summer precipitation in the study area. This study, augmented with other moisture records, contributes to analyze the temporal and spatial extent of moisture variability in a regional perspective.
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Explosive caldera-forming eruptions eject voluminous magma during the gravitational collapse of the roof of the magma chamber. Caldera collapse is known to occur by rapid decompression of a magma chamber at shallow depth, however, the thresholds for magma chamber decompression that promotes caldera collapse have not been tested using examples from actual caldera-forming eruptions. Here, we investigated the processes of magma chamber decompression leading to caldera collapse using two natural examples from Aira and Kikai calderas in southwestern Japan. The analysis of water content in phenocryst glass embayments revealed that Aira experienced a large magmatic underpressure before the onset of caldera collapse, whereas caldera collapse occurred with a relatively small underpressure at Kikai. Our friction models for caldera faults show that the underpressure required for a magma chamber to collapse is proportional to the square of the depth to the magma chamber for calderas of the same horizontal size. This model explains why the relatively deep magma system of Aira required a larger underpressure for collapse when compared with the shallower magma chamber of Kikai. The distinct magma chamber underpressure thresholds can explain variations in the evolution of caldera-forming eruptions and the eruption sequences for catastrophic ignimbrites during caldera collapse.
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Two large volcanic eruptions contributed to extreme cold temperatures during the early 1800s, one of the coldest phases of the Little Ice Age. While impacts from the massive 1815 Tambora eruption in Indonesia are relatively well-documented, much less is known regarding an unidentified volcanic event around 1809. Here, we describe the spatial extent, duration, and magnitude of cold conditions following this eruption in northwestern North America using a high-resolution network of tree-ring records that capture past warm-season temperature variability. Extreme and persistent cold temperatures were centered around the Gulf of Alaska, the adjacent Wrangell-St Elias Mountains, and the southern Yukon, while cold anomalies diminished with distance from this core region. This distinct spatial pattern of temperature anomalies suggests that a weak Aleutian Low and conditions similar to a negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation could have contributed to regional cold extremes after the 1809 eruption.
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This report describes details of developing a volcano forcing reconstruction (Crowley et al., 2008) for climate models that is based primarily on sulphate records in Antarctic and Greenland ice cores. The chronology of eruptions is considered accurate to within 1 yr for the interval AD 1104–2000 and about 2 yr for AD 800–1103. The reconstruction involves (1) calibration against satellite aerosol optical depth (AOD) estimates of the 1991 Pinatubo/Hudson eruptions; (2) partial validation against independent lunar estimates of AOD and global sulphate emissions; (3) partial assessment of uncertainties in AOD estimates; (4) assessment of possible tropical "false positives" in ice core reconstructions due to simultaneous occurrence of mid/high-latitude eruptions in each hemisphere; (5) identification of a new category of eruptions, termed "unipolar" tropical eruptions, in which the eruption plume penetrates mainly to polar regions in only the hemisphere of its eruption; (6) use of different growth curves for high- and low-latitude eruptions; (7) specification of 2/3 power shortwave scaling for eruptions larger than the 1991 Pinatubo eruption; (8) introduction of an estimate of effective particle size that affects lifetime and scattering properties of stratospheric aerosols; and (9) utilization of bimonthly-resolution electrical conductivity measurements to estimate the eruption date of the 1258/1259 eruption as 1257.7±0.2. The data, and a high-temporal resolution reconstruction for climate models, are available at:
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The response of atmospheric chemistry and dynamics to volcanic eruptions and to a decrease in solar activity during the Dalton Minimum is investigated with the fully coupled atmosphere–ocean chemistry general circulation model SOCOL-MPIOM (modeling tools for studies of SOlar Climate Ozone Links-Max Planck Institute Ocean Model) covering the time period 1780 to 1840 AD. We carried out several sensitivity ensemble experiments to separate the effects of (i) reduced solar ultra-violet (UV) irradiance, (ii) reduced solar visible and near infrared irradiance, (iii) enhanced galactic cosmic ray intensity as well as less intensive solar energetic proton events and auroral electron precipitation, and (iv) volcanic aerosols. The introduced changes of UV irradiance and volcanic aerosols significantly influence stratospheric dynamics in the early 19th century, whereas changes in the visible part of the spectrum and energetic particles have smaller effects. A reduction of UV irradiance by 15%, which represents the presently discussed highest estimate of UV irradiance change caused by solar activity changes, causes global ozone decrease below the stratopause reaching as much as 8% in the midlatitudes at 5 hPa and a significant stratospheric cooling of up to 2 °C in the mid-stratosphere and to 6 °C in the lower mesosphere. Changes in energetic particle precipitation lead only to minor changes in the yearly averaged temperature fields in the stratosphere. Volcanic aerosols heat the tropical lower stratosphere, allowing more water vapour to enter the tropical stratosphere, which, via HOx reactions, decreases upper stratospheric and mesospheric ozone by roughly 4%. Conversely, heterogeneous chemistry on aerosols reduces stratospheric NOx, leading to a 12% ozone increase in the tropics, whereas a decrease in ozone of up to 5% is found over Antarctica in boreal winter. The linear superposition of the different contributions is not equivalent to the response obtained in a simulation when all forcing factors are applied during the Dalton Minimum (DM) – this effect is especially well visible for NOx/NOy. Thus, this study also shows the non-linear behaviour of the coupled chemistry-climate system. Finally, we conclude that especially UV and volcanic eruptions dominate the changes in the ozone, temperature and dynamics while the NOx field is dominated by the energetic particle precipitation. Visible radiation changes have only very minor effects on both stratospheric dynamics and chemistry.
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The decadal evolution of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice following strong volcanic eruptions is investigated in four climate simulation ensembles performed with the COSMOS-Mill version of the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model. The ensembles differ in the magnitude of the imposed volcanic perturbations, with sizes representative of historical tropical eruptions (1991 Pinatubo and 1815 Tambora) and of tropical and extra-tropical "supervolcano" eruptions. A post-eruption Arctic sea-ice expansion is robustly detected in all ensembles, while Antarctic sea ice responds only to supervolcano eruptions, undergoing an initial short-lived expansion and a subsequent prolonged contraction phase. Strong volcanic forcing therefore emerges as a potential source of inter-hemispheric interannual-to-decadal climate variability, although the inter-hemispheric signature is weak in the case of eruptions comparable to historical eruptions. The post-eruption inter-hemispheric decadal asymmetry in sea ice is interpreted as a consequence mainly of the different exposure of Arctic and Antarctic regional climates to induced meridional heat transport changes and of dominating local feedbacks that set in within the Antarctic region. Supervolcano experiments help to clarify differences in simulated hemispheric internal dynamics related to imposed negative net radiative imbalances, including the relative importance of the thermal and dynamical components of the sea-ice response. Supervolcano experiments could therefore serve the assessment of climate models' behavior under strong external forcing conditions and, consequently, favor advancements in our understanding of simulated sea-ice dynamics.
Grosse Vulkanausbrüche können das Klima stark beeinflussen. Eine der mächtigsten Eruptionen der letzten 20 000 Jahre, der Ausbruch des Tambora in Indonesien im April 1815, verursachte in Mittel- und Westeuropa ein «Jahr ohne Sommer». Dieses schloss an die Napoleonischen Kriege (1792–1815) an, welche die Vorräte der Bevölkerung in weiten Teilen Europas erschöpft hatten. Anhaltende Nässe und Kälte im Jahre 1816 zogen Ernteausfälle, Teuerung, Armut, Krankheit und Tod nach sich. Die Schweiz litt besonders stark unter der letzten grossen Subsistenzkrise des Westens. Die Studie untersucht die Geschichte des Hungers zu Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts aus einer interdisziplinären Perspektive. Das von Daniel Krämer entwickelte Modell zu den konzeptionellen Strukturen des Hungers erlaubt eine Raum und Zeit übergreifende Untersuchung der langfristigen Ursachen, der kurzfristigen Auslöser, der unmittelbaren Auswirkungen und der angewandten Adaptionsstrategien auf unterschiedlichen gesellschaftlichen Ebenen. Das Problem der Messbarkeit des Hungers wird mit verschiedenen Ansätzen untersucht. Neben klassischen Indikatoren aus der Preis- und Bevölkerungsgeschichte werden Daten zur steigenden Kleinkriminalität im Alltag und zur Entwicklung der mittleren Körperhöhe als Merkmal für den biologischen Lebensstandard beigezogen. Schliesslich machen eigens erstellte Mangelernährungskarten für die Jahre 1817 und 1818 erstmals die erheblichen Unterschiede der sozio-ökonomischen Verletzlichkeit auf Bezirksebene in der ganzen Schweiz sichtbar. Die Eidgenossenschaft eignet sich durch ihre feine territoriale Kammerung und die Vielfalt der Verwaltungstraditionen hervorragend für eine Studie mit Modellcharakter in der historischen Hungerforschung.
John Kington's book, the first of its kind, gives a definitive account of the weather in the 1780s over Europe based on historical weather maps. These charts are unique in forming the earliest series of daily synoptic weather maps constructed with quantitative instrumental data, and as such represent an important contribution to the history of climate.
Earth’s climate is undergoing profound changes. Understanding and assessing these changes requires insight from the past. The period since 1700 is of particular relevance because Earth’s climate underwent a transition from the Little Ice Age climate to the era of anthropogenic global warming. Moreover, pronounced climatic excursions occurred on interannual and decadal time scales, and atmospheric composition changed. Recent developments in the fields of paleoclimatology and historical climatology – high-resolution climate proxies, climate model simulations, and numerical techniques such as data assimilation – allow a much more detailed analysis of climatic changes of the past centuries than possible only a decade ago. “Climatic Changes since 1700” – the title honours the 1890 book by the same title of geographer Eduard Brückner – covers data and methods used to study climate of the past centuries, summarises the mechanisms behind interannual to multidecadal climate variability and provides an overview of global climate history since 1700 based on new data sets and model simulations.