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Monday, January 03, 2005

A Tsunami New Year

Is it fair to ask what simple systems were in place to track major seismic events and consider their impacts on the victim nations? How could a government ignore a huge earthquake thinking issuing a warning might hurt the tourism industry? Huge tsunamis, without warning, hurt the tourism industry.

Why do 'experts' say these events are once-in-a-lifetime? Each active geologic region on Earth will not produce spectacular events all the time. But as a planet, Earth has a history of major earthquakes, many producing tsunami. Human history is filled with stories of volcanic eruptions, giant earthquakes, and fire from the sky.

Indonesia produced the Krakatoa eruption of 1883.

There are many active volcanic regions in the world right now, from Mt. St. Helens, Monserrat, and Iceland, to Hawaii and Indonesia.

But the Indonesian Krakatoa eruption of 1883 was particularly spectacular:

A series of large tsunami waves generated by the main explosion, some reaching a height of nearly 40 meters (more than 120 feet) above sea level, killed more than 36,000 people in the coastal towns and villages along the Sunda Strait on Java and Sumatra islands. Tsunami waves were recorded or observed throughout the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the American West Coast, South America, and even as far away as the English Channel.

But nothing in modern history tops Mt. Tambora eruption in 1815, also in Indonesia.

Tambora erupted in 1815 killing 92 000 people. 1816 became the year without a summer as the global climate effects were felt. Aerosols from the Tambora eruption blocked out sunlight and reduced global temperatures by 3 deg C. Europe missed a summer, and India had crop failures following the Tambora eruption. 100 cubic km of magma was erupted. Ten thousand people were killed immediately from the pyroclastic flows and the eventual toll due to starvation and diseasme may have been as high as 117,000.

The Year Without a Summer, and the Year of Famine

Even in New England, the weather was dramatically colder.

What Made 1816 So Cold?
The meteorological facts of life during 1816 have been laid out. The period March to September was marked by a series of strong and frequent invasions of dry arctic air across New England. While the movement of arctic air masses through this region is not uncommon in other seasons, their appearance in the summer as cold and frequent as in 1816 is indeed unusual. The question arises, why? Various theories have been put forward.

The most likely cause was volcanic influences. Proponents note that a number of major volcanic eruptions preceded 1816: SoufriƩre and St. Vincent in 1812: Mayon and Luzon in the Phillippines during 1814; Tambora in Indonesia during 1815. The volcanic theory of climatic influence relates increased volcanic activity with decreased temperatures due to the increased reflection of solar radiation from volcanic dust blown and trapped high in the atmosphere. The Tambora eruption has been estimated to be the most violent in historical times. The explosion is believed to have lifted 150 to 180 cubic kilometres of material into the atmosphere. For a comparison, the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatau ejected only 20 cubic kilometres of material into the air, and yet it affected sunsets for several years after.

It is fair to say Indonesia has produced three of the largest geologic disasters in modern history.

So religions ask How could God let this happen?

God hates people who live near sea level? The biggest tsunami is defeated by high ground. Why didn't someone in charge tell people to get to high ground? As the bodies pile up, maybe those in charge can answer some of the obvious questions. The Indonesian government should educate its citizens on the volcanic and dangerous national history.

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