1110 AD, The Year Volcanoes Vanished the Moon and Sparked Global Famine

1110 AD, The Year Volcanoes Vanished the Moon and Sparked Global Famine

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Scientists finally explain the Moon's mysterious disappearance and the cause of a global famine in 1110 AD.

While the opening line of this article sounds like a bait and switch classic, every written word is true, and the Moon actually disappeared from sight on 5th May 1110 AD. Now, a team of scientific researchers thinks “forgotten volcanic eruptions” might explain curious historical astronomical accounts of the Moon “vanishing.”

An unnamed Anglo-Saxon writer created the Peterborough Chronicle , a version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , which was copied and continued after the Norman Conquest , and it provides the year 1135 AD as the so-called Final Continuation to the Peterborough Chronicle . This text records the year 1110 AD as bringing severe climatology in the form of torrential rainfall, which caused nationwide famine and that on the “fifth night in the month of May,” the Moon shone bright in the evening but as night came, it was “completely extinguished” that neither “light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen.”

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, marked secondarily by the librarian of the Laud collection. The manuscript is an autograph of the monastic scribes of Peterborough. (Hchc2009 / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Aiming to establish what made the Moon disappear in May 1110 AD, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports first negates the two most obvious explanations, cloud cover or an eclipse. A Live Science article explains that if clouds had been the cause, the chronicler wouldn’t have recorded the “bright and twinkling stars,” while the Moon faded from view, and if the Moon had been eclipsed by the Earth's shadow, the writer would have seen it turning an orangey-red color, and not vanishing in the sky.

A Spectacular Astronomical Optical Phenomenon

To account for this apparently supernatural astronomical occurrence the team of scientists looked at ice core samples, which pointed to several closely spaced volcanic eruptions that may have occurred in Europe or Asia between 1108 and 1110 AD. They wrote that the “spectacular atmospheric optical phenomena” associated with high-altitude volcanic aerosols have caught the attention of chroniclers since ancient times, and they believe these volcanic events caused the apparent disappearance of the Moon.

Representation of an erupting volcano. ( Ingo Bartussek / Adobe stock)

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Perhaps releasing towering clouds of ash that cloaked the world’s atmosphere for several years, said the scientists, this “forgotten cluster of eruptions” is so called because of the sparsity of records pertaining to them at the time. And their suspicions that a high-altitude veil of volcanic aerosols momentarily blotted out the Moon, as is recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle, which is supported by the records of heavier than normal rains, because a series of large volcanic eruptions would have significantly disrupted the world’s climate “causing or exacerbated the cold, wet weather that made life so miserable in 1110 AD,” the researchers speculated.

Fire in the Sky Caused Charred Fields and Global Famine

Bringing their speculations into the zone of tested scientific fact, to determine the types of particles in the atmosphere in 1110 AD, the team searched for evidence of these forgotten volcanic eruptions in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. An increase in sulfate aerosols was observed in both cores between 1108 and 1110 AD, and because sulfates come from volcanoes, it suggests the stratosphere was full of burnt volcanic materials.

Further to cement speculations, the team assembled 13 written historical accounts of crop failure and a global famine caused by heavy rain from the same time period, and also a study of tree rings, which expand in response to climate patterns, revealed that 1109 AD was “an unusually cold, wet year in Western Europe comparable to the effects of several other major volcanic eruptions from history.”

A Climate Catastrophe With Eastern Origins

To have signed and sealed the ideas presented in this new paper, the scientists would have needed to find evidence of an actual volcanic eruption, and not just environmental signatures, which suggest or indicate such events, and while they admit the sources of the speculated upon eruptions remain unknown, they point towards a Japanese writer between 1062 and 1141 AD who said Mount Asama in central Japan “began erupting in late August 1108 AD” and that the occurrence lasted until October of that year.

Mount Asama in Honshū in Japan. ( Toru Shimizu / Adobe stock)

This Japanese account describes “fire in the sky, scorching fields” and the team think it plausible that it might have contributed to the sulfate spike they observed in the Greenland ice core, and they also think it is feasible that this eruption polluted the atmosphere with enough aerosols to “induce the eclipse two years later, and they say it provides the best solution yet for the case of the “disappearing Moon,” the team concluded.

In 1110, The Moon Vanished From The Sky. We Might Finally Know What Caused It

Almost a millennium ago, a major upheaval occurred in Earth’s atmosphere: a giant cloud of sulphur-rich particles flowed throughout the stratosphere, turning skies dark for months or even years, before ultimately falling down to Earth.

We know this event happened because researchers have drilled and analysed ice cores – samples taken from deep within ice sheets or glaciers, which have trapped sulphur aerosols produced by volcanic eruptions reaching the stratosphere and settling back on the surface.

Ice can thus preserve evidence of volcanism over incredibly long timescales, but pinpointing the precise date of an event that shows up in the layers of an ice core is still tricky business.

In this case, scientists had assumed the sulphurous deposit was left by a major eruption unleashed in 1104 by Iceland’s Hekla, a volcano sometimes called the ‘Gateway to Hell’. Since the thin strip of ice ranks among the largest sulfate deposition signals of the last millennium, it sounds plausible.

Only, what if the accepted timeline of an ice core turns out to be time-warped? A few years ago, one study concluded that a timescale called the Greenland Ice Core Chronology 2005 (GICC05) was off by up to seven years in the first millennium CE, and by up to four years early in the next millennium.

Those findings, according to new research led by palaeoclimatologist Sébastien Guillet from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, mean Hekla couldn’t have been the culprit for the giant sulphate signal after all.

“A prominent discovery arising from this revised ice-core dating is a major and hitherto unrecognised bipolar volcanic signal with sulfate deposition starting in late 1108 or early 1109 CE and persisting until early 1113 CE in the Greenland record,” Guillet and his co-authors explain in their paper, noting that evidence for the same event can also be seen in a similarly revised Antarctic ice core chronology.

To investigate what might have been responsible for leaving these ancient tracks at both the top and the bottom of the world, the team combed historical documentation, looking for medieval records of strange, dark-looking lunar eclipses that could correspond to the stratospheric haze of major eruptive events.

“The spectacular atmospheric optical phenomena associated with high-altitude volcanic aerosols have caught the attention of chroniclers since ancient times,” the team writes.

“In particular, the reported brightness of lunar eclipses can be employed both to detect volcanic aerosols in the stratosphere and to quantify stratospheric optical depths following large eruptions.”

According to NASA records based on astronomical retrocalculation, seven total lunar eclipses would have been observable in Europe in the first 20 years of the last millennium, between 1100 and 1120 CE.

Among these, a witness to a lunar eclipse that occurred in May 1110 wrote of the exceptional darkness of the Moon during the phenomenon.

“On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.

Many astronomers have since discussed this mysterious and unusually dark lunar eclipse. Centuries after it occurred, the English astronomer Georges Frederick Chambers wrote about it, saying: “It is evident that this [eclipse] was an instance of a ‘black’ eclipse when the Moon becomes quite invisible instead of shining with the familiar coppery hue”.

Despite the event being well-known in astronomy history, though, researchers have never suggested it might have been caused by the presence of volcanic aerosols in the stratosphere, even though that’s the most likely cause, the new study suggests.

“We note that no other evidence of volcanic dust veil, such as a dimming of the Sun, red twilight glows and/or reddish solar haloes, could be found during our investigations for the years 1108–1110 CE,” the researchers write.

If the timing is right, then what volcano was responsible for the sulphur cloud, given Hekla is now out of the frame?

While it’s impossible to know for sure, the team thinks the most probable explanation is Japan’s Mount Asama, which produced a giant, months-long eruption in the year 1108 – significantly larger than a subsequent eruption in 1783 that killed over 1,400 people.

A diary entry recorded by a statesman describes the 1108 event: “There was a fire at the top of the volcano, a thick layer of ash in the governor’s garden, everywhere the fields and the rice fields are rendered unfit for cultivation. We never saw that in the country. It is a very strange and rare thing.”

In addition to witness accounts, the researchers also looked at tree ring evidence, which suggests 1109 CE was an exceptionally cold year (about 1 degree Celsius cooler in the Northern Hemisphere), based on significantly thinner tree rings.

Other historical documentation, in particular accounts of climatic and societal impacts in the years 1109–1111 CE, corroborate the hypothesis that an 1108 eruption (or a series of eruptions that began that year), could have led to disastrous effects on affected communities.

The researchers found an “abundance of testimonies referring to adverse weather, crop failures, and famines in these years”, noting that the “assembled evidence suggests that the subsistence difficulties, which began in 1109, deepened into famine in several regions of western Europe”.

Of course, those long-ago hardships can’t be taken as proof of any particular eruptive event, but the researchers say all the evidence, taken together, suggests a ‘forgotten’ cluster of volcanic eruptions in 1108 to 1110 unleashed terrible consequences on humanity. We’re only rediscovering them now.


The Year Without a Summer was an agricultural disaster. Historian John D. Post has called this "the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world". [4] [5] The climatic aberrations of 1816 had its greatest effect on most of New England, Atlantic Canada, and parts of western Europe. [6]

Asia Edit

In China there was a massive famine. Floods destroyed many remaining crops. The monsoon season was disrupted, resulting in overwhelming floods in the Yangtze Valley. In India, the delayed summer monsoon caused late torrential rains that aggravated the spread of cholera from a region near the Ganges in Bengal to as far as Moscow. [7] Fort Shuangcheng, now in Heilongjiang, reported fields disrupted by frost and conscripts deserting as a result. Summer snowfall or otherwise mixed precipitation was reported in various locations in Jiangxi and Anhui, located at around 30°N. In Taiwan, which has a tropical climate, snow was reported in Hsinchu and Miaoli, and frost was reported in Changhua. [8] In Japan, which was still exercising caution after the cold-weather-related Great Tenmei famine of 1782–1788, the cold damaged crops, but no crop failures were reported, and there were no adverse effects on population. [9]

The aberrations are now generally thought to have occurred because of the April 5–15, 1815, Mount Tambora volcanic eruption [11] [12] on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. [13] The eruption had a volcanic explosivity index (VEI) ranking of 7, a colossal event that ejected at least 100 km 3 (24 cu mi) of material. It was the world's largest volcanic eruption during historic times comparable to Minoan eruption in the 2nd millennium B.C, the Hatepe eruption of Lake Taupo at around 180 A.D, the eruption of Paektu Mountain in 946 AD, and the 1257 eruption of Mount Samalas.

Other large volcanic eruptions (with VEIs at least 4) around this time were:

  • 1808, the 1808 mystery eruption (VEI 6) in the southwestern Pacific Ocean
  • 1812, La Soufrière on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean
  • 1812, Awu in the Sangihe Islands, Dutch East Indies
  • 1813, Suwanosejima in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan
  • 1814, Mayon in the Philippines

These eruptions had built up a substantial amount of atmospheric dust. As is common after a massive volcanic eruption, temperatures fell worldwide because less sunlight passed through the stratosphere. [14]

According to a 2012 analysis by Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, the 1815 Tambora eruption caused a temporary drop in the Earth's average land temperature of about 1 °C. Smaller temperature drops were recorded from the 1812–1814 eruptions. [15]

The Earth had already been in a centuries-long period of global cooling that started in the 14th century. Known today as the Little Ice Age, it had already caused considerable agricultural distress in Europe. The Little Ice Age's existing cooling was exacerbated by the eruption of Tambora, which occurred near the end of the Little Ice Age. [16]

This period also occurred during the Dalton Minimum (a period of relatively low solar activity), specifically Solar Cycle 6, which ran from December 1810 to May 1823. May 1816 in particular had the lowest sunspot number (0.1) to date since record keeping on solar activity began. The lack of solar irradiance during this period was exacerbated by atmospheric opacity from volcanic dust. [ citation needed ]

Europe Edit

As a result of the series of volcanic eruptions, crops had been poor for several years the final blow came in 1815 with the eruption of Tambora. Europe, still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars, suffered from food shortages. [17] [18] The impoverished especially suffered during this time. Low temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in Britain and Ireland. Families in Wales traveled long distances begging for food. Famine was prevalent in north and southwest Ireland, following the failure of wheat, oat, and potato harvests. In Germany, the crisis was severe. Food prices rose sharply throughout Europe. [19] With the cause of the problems unknown, hungry people demonstrated in front of grain markets and bakeries. Later riots, arson, and looting took place in many European cities. On some occasions, rioters carried flags reading "Bread or Blood". Though riots were common during times of hunger, the food riots of 1816 and 1817 were the highest levels of violence since the French Revolution. [18] It was the worst famine of 19th-century mainland Europe. [20] [21]

Between 1816 and 1819 major typhus epidemics occurred in parts of Europe, including Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, and Scotland, precipitated by malnourishment and famine caused by the Year Without a Summer. More than 65,000 people died as the disease spread out of Ireland and to the rest of Britain. [17] [18]

The long-running Central England temperature record reported the 11th coldest year on records since 1659, as well as the 3rd coldest summer and the coldest July on record. [22] Huge storms and abnormal rainfall with flooding of Europe's major rivers (including the Rhine) are attributed to the event, as is the August frost. As a result of volcanic ash in the atmosphere, Hungary experienced brown snow. Italy's northern and north-central region experienced something similar, with red snow falling throughout the year. [17]

The effects were widespread and lasted beyond the winter. In western Switzerland, the summers of 1816 and 1817 were so cold that an ice dam formed below a tongue of the Giétro Glacier high in the Val de Bagnes. Despite engineer Ignaz Venetz's efforts to drain the growing lake, the ice dam collapsed catastrophically in June 1818, killing 40 people. [23]

North America Edit

In the spring and summer of 1816, a persistent "dry fog" was observed in parts of the eastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the "fog". It has been characterized as a "stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil". [24]

The weather was not in itself a hardship for those accustomed to long winters. The real problem lay in the weather's effect on crops and thus on the supply of food and firewood. At higher elevations, where farming was problematic in good years, the cooler climate did not quite support agriculture. In May 1816, [25] frost killed off most crops in the higher elevations of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as well as upstate New York. On June 6, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. [20] In Cape May, New Jersey, frost was reported five nights in a row in late June, causing extensive crop damage. [26] New England also experienced major consequences from the eruption of Tambora. Though fruits and vegetable crops survived, corn was reported to have ripened so poorly that no more than a quarter of it was usable for food. This moldy and unripe harvest wasn't even fit for animal feed. [17] The crop failures in New England, Canada, and parts of Europe also caused the price of many staples to rise sharply. In Canada, Quebec ran out of bread and milk and Nova Scotians found themselves boiling foraged herbs for sustenance. [17]

Many commented on the phenomenon. Sarah Snell Bryant, of Cummington, Massachusetts, wrote in her diary, "Weather backward." [27]

At the Church Family of Shakers near New Lebanon, New York, Nicholas Bennet wrote in May 1816, "all was froze" and the hills were "barren like winter". Temperatures went below freezing almost every day in May. The ground froze on June 9. On June 12, the Shakers had to replant crops destroyed by the cold. On July 7, it was so cold, everything had stopped growing. The Berkshire Hills had frost again on August 23, as did much of the upper northeast. [28]

A Massachusetts historian summed up the disaster:

Severe frosts occurred every month June 7th and 8th snow fell, and it was so cold that crops were cut down, even freezing the roots . In the early Autumn when corn was in the milk it was so thoroughly frozen that it never ripened and was scarcely worth harvesting. Breadstuffs were scarce and prices high and the poorer class of people were often in straits for want of food. It must be remembered that the granaries of the great west had not then been opened to us by railroad communication, and people were obliged to rely upon their own resources or upon others in their immediate locality. [29]

In July and August, lake and river ice was observed as far south as northwestern Pennsylvania. Frost was reported as far south as Virginia on August 20 and 21. [30] Rapid, dramatic temperature swings were common, with temperatures sometimes reverting from normal or above-normal summer temperatures as high as 95 °F (35 °C) to near-freezing within hours. Thomas Jefferson, retired from the presidency and farming at Monticello, sustained crop failures that sent him further into debt. On September 13, a Virginia newspaper reported that corn crops would be one half to two-thirds short and lamented that "the cold as well as the drought has nipt the buds of hope". [31] A Norfolk, Virginia newspaper reported:

It is now the middle of July, and we have not yet had what could properly be called summer. Easterly winds have prevailed for nearly three months past . the sun during that time has generally been obscured and the sky overcast with clouds the air has been damp and uncomfortable, and frequently so chilling as to render the fireside a desirable retreat. [32]

Regional farmers did succeed in bringing some crops to maturity, but corn and other grain prices rose dramatically. The price of oats, for example, rose from 12¢ per bushel ($3.40/m 3 ) in 1815 (equal to $1.7 today) to 92¢ per bushel ($26/m 3 ) in 1816 ($14.03 today). Crop failures were aggravated by an inadequate transportation network: with few roads or navigable inland waterways and no railroads, it was expensive to import food. [33]

Similar to Hungary and Italy, Maryland experienced brown, bluish, and yellow snowfall during April and May due to volcanic ash in the atmosphere. [17]

‘Worst year to be alive’ caused by ancient volcanic eruption that plunged world into darkness – and may have led to plague that killed 50million

A DEVASTATING plague that killed up to 50million people may have spread across Medieval Europe thanks to an explosive volcano.

The eruption in 536 AD belched out so much ash and rock that it blocked out the Sun over the continent, providing the perfect conditions for widespread disease and famine.

Scientists have long known that a volcano in Iceland was likely responsible for what Medieval scholars have called "the worst year to be alive".

But in a new study, experts claim to have located the site of a second volcano that contributed to the Sixth Century catastrophe.

They say that Ilopango, in El Salvador, Central America, also erupted around the time of the global disaster.

During the year 536 AD, thousands of tonnes of ash and volcanic dust cast an unrelenting shadow over Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.

An enormous volcanic eruption coughed millions of tonnes of smoke into the atmosphere in the Sixth CenturyIt blocked out the Sun, day and night, for 18 months, causing snowfall in China, continental-scale crop failure, extreme drought, famine and disease throughout most of the northern hemisphere.

The apocalyptic scene wasn't lost on writers of the time, who jotted down terrifying accounts of life in the shadows.

Byzantine historian Procopius wrote: "For the Sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year."

In Ireland, where the fog triggered a deadly famine that gripped the nation for three years, 536-539 AD was branded "the failure of bread".

In the new study, researchers at the University of Colorado, USA, say a massive eruption at Ilopango in 539 AD prolonged humanity's misery.

They base their claims on ash deposits around the volcano, as well as ancient tree trunks coated with ash from the eruption.

All signs point to a ginormous eruption – one of the 10 most powerful in the past 7,000 years – occurring between 500 and 545.

The researchers say that this lines up with a global drop in temperature around the time, suggesting that – alongside other eruptions that century – Ilopango was partly responsible.

Incessant volcanic activity produced millions of tonnes of ash which spread over vast swathes of the world.

A lack of sunlight meant crops stopped growing, leading to famine and a collapse of the global economy.

Some experts even believe the eruptions are linked to a major plague pandemic.

The Justinian Plague started in 541 AD and killed around as many as 50million in just 12 months as it spread across the Mediterranean.

What is the plague?

Here's what you need to know about the deadly infection.

  • Plague is a serious and often deadly bacterial infection caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis
  • Humans can be infected with the plague from flea bites and rats were responsible for spreading a lot of plague ridden fleas around Europe
  • People can also infect one another so plague sufferers must be isolated
  • Most people have heard of the bubonic plague but there are actually lots of different names for plague depending on which area of the human body is infected
  • Bubonic plague infects the lymph nodes, pneumonic plague infects the lungs and septicemic plague infects the blood
  • Symptoms of bubonic plague include: fever, chills, seizures and swelling at the site of the flea bite
  • 50% of people who have bubonic plague die if it's not treated with antibiotics
  • There have been three major bubonic plague outbreaks in history with the most well known one reffered to as the Black Death
  • The first bubonic plague outbreak is called the Justinian Plague, named after a Roman emperor called Justinian I
  • It started in 541 AD and spread across the Mediterranean, killing 25 million people
  • The second major outbreak was the Black Death, which originated in China in 1334
  • It swept across the globe and killed nearly 60% of Europe's human population
  • The third outbreak is often called the Modern Plague and it also began in China in the 1860s
  • It reached Hong Kong in 1894 and spread around the world for the next 20 years, killing about 10 million people

Widespread hunger and a lack of sunlight may have left the people of Europe more vulnerable to infections, potentially aiding the spread of the deadly disease.

We don't know how many died during the disaster and the years of turmoil that followed, but it's possible it stretched into the tens of millions.

The devastation triggered by the fog may have given rise to the moniker "The Dark Ages". Harvard professor Michael McCormick reckons 536AD is a prime candidate for the unfortunate accolade of the worst year in history.

Last year, he told Science Magazine the world isn't thought to have recovered until 640AD – more than 100 years later.

Professor McCormick said: "It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year."

The Moon Mysteriously Disappeared 900 Years Ago, and Scientists Think They Know Why

About 900 years ago, a skywatcher in England witnessed a total lunar eclipse that must have been baffling, even terrifying. Despite the fact that the night was clear and the stars shone bright, the Moon just…vanished.

During the unusually dark ecliptic blackout, the Moon was “so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” the person reported in a manuscript called the Peterborough Chronicle, adding that the dark Moon 𠇌ontinued nearly until day, and then appeared shining full and bright.” In the millennium since, nobody has come up with a comprehensive explanation for this bizarre occurrence.

To explain what might have caused this eerily black eclipse, which occurred on the night of May 5, 1110, a team of scientists examined tree rings, surveyed ice cores, and scoured historical archives. In a recent paper published in Scientific Reports, the researchers suggest that a “𠆏orgotten’ cluster of volcanic eruptions” from 1108 to 1110, possibly from Japan’s deadly Mount Asama, ejected a 𠇍ust veil” over Europe, which created the shadowy eclipse.

“I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with old trees, ancient texts, and ice-core data,” said lead author Sstien Guillet, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Geneva, in an email. “I feel like a time traveler.”

That said, it takes a lot of time and concentration to accumulate natural records of ice cores and tree rings, let alone hunting for relevant information in historical sources from 12th century Europe, most of which are in Latin. “Sometimes you can spend days reading old texts without finding any relevant information related to weather or climate,” Guillet noted. “You have to be patient.”

Fortunately, the team’s efforts, which began in 2016, have culminated in a fascinating interdisciplinary collection of records.

As the authors note in the study, the �rkest total lunar eclipses” recorded since 1600 CE “have all been linked to large volcanic eruptions and the Peterborough Chronicle offers “one of the longest and most detailed accounts we are aware of for any dark lunar eclipse occurring between 500 and 1800 CE”, which sparked a search for likely volcanic events that may have led to it.

“The idea that the dark total lunar of May 1110 eclipse was connected to volcanism came actually quite easily,” Guillet said. “The darkness of the 1110 total lunar eclipse has, indeed, long caught the attention of astronomers and we knew about the existence of this intriguing eclipse long before we started to work on the 1108-1110 eruptions.”

Guillet and his colleagues looked for hints of major volcanic activity in ancient ice cores extracted from Greenland and Antarctica. These cores are treasure troves of information about the past climate, including volcanic eruptions, which can sprinkle ash and aerosols all around the world.

The team studied spikes in sulfate aerosols in the cores before and during the year 1110, when the dark eclipse happened, indicating that volcanic eruptions had belched fumes into the stratosphere around that time. When compared against the other known volcanic eruptions that occurred over the past 1,000 years, this volcanic event ranks seventh in terms of how much sulfur it injected into the atmosphere.

To bolster these observations, the researchers hunted down tree ring records that span this period, because these patterns inside trees grow in response to seasonal climate patterns. The rings suggested that the year 1109 in Western Europe was unusually cold and rainy, an anomaly that may have been caused or exacerbated by the global effects of a volcano spewing dust and ash into the skies.

The dreary weather documented in the tree rings is backed up by historical accounts that Guillet’s team collected. In Ireland, people fasted and gave alms to God so that the “heavy rain and bad weather in the summer and autumn might be dispelled,” according to the manuscript Annals of Inisfallen. As crops failed, famines in France broke out that “killed off many people and reduced countless numbers of rich people to poverty,” as recorded in the Chronicle of Morigny. Meanwhile, the Peterborough Chronicle, which contains the account of the dark lunar eclipse, attests that 1110 was 𠇊 very disastrous year.”

Though these climatic and social upheavals no doubt had complex origins, Guillet and his colleagues think the combination of natural and historical evidence points to a cluster of major eruptions as a factor. One likely culprit is Mount Asama, an active volcano on the main island of Japan. The volcano is known to have exploded in a catastrophic eruption in 1108, thanks to a contemporary statesman named Fujiwara no Munetada who chronicled it in a diary called Chūyūki.

However, it will take more research to track down the exact sources of this ancient stratospheric dust veil, as it’s probable that many eruptions contributed to this 𠇍isastrous year” of famines and creepy dark skies.

“We suggested in the study that Mount Asama in Japan contributed to sulfur deposition in Greenland but this hypothesis still needs to be confirmed,” Guillet said. “Hopefully one day we will be able to validate or invalidate this hypothesis.”

For instance, the team suggested that future research could focus on characterizing the “tephra,” or volcanic debris, found in ice cores from this time, as it could contain geochemical signatures that can be linked to specific volcanoes.

The new research is a reminder that our planet, and its civilizations, are deeply interconnected. A natural disaster in one corner of the world can throw communities thousands of miles away into turmoil, and can even darken the Moon on a clear night.

“Many more eruptions are evident from ice core records and several of them have never been studied in detail,” Guillet concluded. “Therefore, there&aposs still plenty of work to do to better understand the influence of large eruptions on the climate system and to which degree these eruptions impacted (or not) past societies.”

Update : This article has been updated with comments from paleoclimatologist Sstien Guillet.


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Below I have enhanced the contrast at 1hr.49min 29sec so that you can see.

Someone commented that they are setting fires all across the west to blanket the atmosphere with sun blocking particulates and to cover the traces of the solar radiation management operations. Also redirects moisture over the west. Dutch believes that it is a DEW employed by the Russians.

Dutch has made a color enhanced view so that you can see it (short video about 3 mins):

Volcanic Eruptions Made Things Worse

Researchers discovered evidence deep in the ice sheets of Iceland and Greenland that indicated a major volcanic event occurred around 536. Volcanic eruptions in Iceland in 540 and 547 thrust people into the literal Dark Ages, with ash lining the skies and blocking out the shiny, hot sun thing in the sky that the people of the 6th century were starting to get used to having around.

Based on tropical volcanic ash later discovered, some scholars have suggested a volcano in El Salvador went blasting off around the year 535 or 536. Still, others pointed to a volcanic eruption in North America as a contributor to the dark skies around the world. When combined with the two Icelandic volcano eruptions, it kicked off it was adorably called the "Late Antique Little Ice "Age.

This cute little ice age cooled off the planet for at least a decade and resulted in the death of crops and, subsequently, people. Both directly through starvation and indirectly, a malnourished population was more susceptible to diseases, of which there were plenty running around.

The Worst Year Ever to Be Alive in History

The worst year to be alive? Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano that threw transatlantic travel into a tailspin several years ago after it erupted, sending plumes of smoke over the North Atlantic, the UK and the continent. Another Icelandic volcano could have caused enormous disruption in the year 536 as well, according to new research. Credit: Árni Friðriksson/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0

The year 2020 may be the worst one that most of us alive today have most likely experienced, for a whole host of reasons. But the volcanic explosions of the year 536 caused modern-day researchers to state recently that that year was definitively “the worst year to be alive” in history.

A strange and unsettling fog, which even deprived the world of the sun’s warmth, plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness — both day and night — for a year and a half, starting in 536, causing untold misery across the globe.

The Byzantine historian Procopius recorded at the time “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year.”

“One of the worst years to be alive”

Michael McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past, says that in Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods, if not the worst year to be alive.”

From core samples taken from the ice around the globe, scientists are now able to determine that temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, paving the way for the coldest decade in the past 2,300 years and ushering in famine and misery of every kind in human society.

Snow fell during that summer even in China, while crops failed all around the globe, causing mass starvation and want.

“A failure of bread”

Irish monks, chronicling the events of the times, noted tersely in their records that there was “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.”

Historians have known for some time that the middle of the sixth century was a dark time in what was once referred to as the Dark Ages however, the strange clouds described by multiple sources over the entire world at the time posed a mystery.

But now, thanks to almost unimaginably precise analysis from a glacier in Switzerland by a team led by medieval historian Michael McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UMO) in Orono has finally found the culprit to all the human misery of 536, often described as the worst year to be alive.

Cataclysmic Icelandic volcano eruption threw world into darkness in 536

The team reported at a workshop at Harvard University this week that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland was responsible for depositing ash all across the Northern Hemisphere early in that year.

Not only that, but the initial eruption was followed by two more, in 540 and 547. These multiple assaults on the atmosphere, followed by the bubonic plague, were responsible for the economic and social degradation in Europe that lasted for almost one century, until 640.

It was only at that time, according to the researchers, that another clue in the glacial ice — a spike in lead in the atmosphere — shows there had been a resurgence of silver mining, crucial to the European economy at the time.

According to the report, published in the journal Antiquity, the new findings don’t just explain a global cooling that happened, as has been noted previously — when volcanic ash blots out the sun.

Kyle Harper, the provost and a medieval and Roman historian at the University of Oklahoma, says that the detailed proof of these natural disasters and human pollution caused by economic activity also “give us a new kind of record for understanding the concatenation of human and natural causes that led to the fall of the Roman Empire — and the earliest stirrings of this new medieval economy.”

Tree ring proof now collated with ice core samples

Back in the 1990s, studies of tree rings told researchers that something terrible had happened in the environment around the year 540 AD.

But it was just three years ago that polar ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctica gave them an inkling of just how gigantic the event was — and how far-reaching its effects must have been.

Researchers have long known that volcanoes spew sulphur, bismuth and other elements into the atmosphere, causing an aerosolized “veil” to form that ends up reflecting the sun’s rays back into space, cooling the earth.

Michael Sigl, from the University of Bern, Switzerland, led a team that discovered that chemical traces of this action from ice cores could be matched with tree ring records, confirming the fact that almost every unusually cold summer over the past 2500 years followed a volcanic eruption.

At the time, the team thought that one enormous eruption — perhaps even in North America — must have occurred in late 535 or early 536, and another followed in 540.

Climate Change Institute team tested Swiss glacier ice

Sigl’s team was the first to conclude that the to cataclysmic events explained the prolonged dark and cold, which ended up triggering a spiral of economic and social chaos.

Mayewski, from UMO’s Climate Change Institute, and his interdisciplinary team, in 2013 took on the challenge of trying to identify these eruptions in an ice core drilled in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps.

The 72-meter-long core of glacial ice encapsulates more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, dust storms from the Sahara, and human economic activity — right in the middle of Europe.

Using a new ultra–high-resolution method, a laser was used to carve slivers of ice that are no thicker than 120 microns. Pieces of ice this thin represent only a few days or weeks of snowfall, according to the researchers.

As many as 50,000 slices were taken from each meter of the ice core. By analyzing the slices for different elements, Majewski and his team were able to pinpoint not only volcanic eruptions, but ordinary storms as well.

The presence of lead in the atmosphere, another telltale sign of human activity, was checked for the past 2,000 years, according to UMO volcanologist Andrei Kurbatov.

Volcanic glass captured in ice in 536 AD

Intriguingly, UMaine graduate student Laura Hartman discovered two microscopic particles of volcanic glass captured in the ice core dating back to the spring of 536.

Using x-rays to determine their chemical fingerprint, Hartman and Kurbatov determined that they closely matched glass particles that had been found in lakes and peat bogs in Europe, as well as in a Greenland ice core.

Those particular bits of glass resembled volcanic rocks spewed from an Icelandic volcano. Geoscientist David Lowe of the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, posits that the chemical similarities between the glass particles in all these areas were emitted from the same Icelandic volcano.

For his part, Sigl believes that more evidence is needed before he could agree with that supposition, as he believes the eruption occurred in North America.

Wherever the volcano was situated, the winds and weather at that time back in 536 managed to force the volcanic plume all the way southeast across Europe and even into Asia, casting its spell of gloom as it “rolled through,” according to Kurbatov.

Naturally, the researchers are not quite through, continuing their quest to locate more particles from whichever volcano it was in lakes in Europe and Iceland, before they can confirm where it was situated and just why its eruption was so completely devastating.

In 640, the ice shows that the economy had recovered to the point that silver was once again being smelted lead ore containing silver had to be melted down to obtain the precious metal, so the lead particles showed that the economy had rebounded to a point.

The rise of the merchant class as society rebounded

Archaeologist Christopher Loveluck, from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, believes that a second atmospheric lead spike, in the year 660, shows that there was a major infusion of silver into the emerging medieval economy.

The heavy use of silver suggests, he says, that gold had become scarce as trade picked up once again, forcing a shift to silver for money. And, in a crucial development of the Western world, Loveluck and his research colleagues say in the Antiquity report that this “shows the rise of the merchant class for the first time.”

Tragically, ice cores also showed the misery of another, much better-known time, that of the Black Death, which sept across the world from 1349 to 1353. Once again, lead vanished from the samples, showing that the Medieval economy had again ground to a halt during that time of enormous social and economic devastation.

“We’ve entered a new era with this ability to integrate ultra–high-resolution environmental records with similarly high resolution historical records,” Loveluck explains in the article. “It’s a real game changer.”

So, if you think you have experienced the worst year to be alive during your lifetime, you might want to think it over again, now that you know of the year 536.

Volcanic Eruption Of 1600 Caused Global Disruption

The 1600 eruption of Huaynaputina in Peru had a global impact on human society, according to a new study of contemporary records by geologists at UC Davis.

The eruption is known to have put a large amount of sulfur into the atmosphere, and tree ring studies show that 1601 was a cold year, but no one had looked at the agricultural and social impacts, said Ken Verosub, professor of geology at UC Davis.

"We knew it was a big eruption, we knew it was a cold year, and that's all we knew," Verosub said.

Sulfur reacts with water in the air to form droplets of sulfuric acid, which cool the planet by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface. But the droplets soon fall back to Earth, so the cooling effects last only a year or so.

Verosub and undergraduate student Jake Lippmann combed through records from the turn of the 17th century from Europe, China and Japan, as well as the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South America and the Philippines, for information about changes in climate, agriculture and society.

In Russia, 1601-1603 brought the worst famine in the country's history, leading to the overthrow of the reigning tsar. Records from Switzerland, Latvia and Estonia record exceptionally cold winters in 1600-1602 in France, the 1601 wine harvest was late, and wine production collapsed in Germany and colonial Peru. In China, peach trees bloomed late, and Lake Suwa in Japan had one of its earliest freezing dates in 500 years.

"In one sense, we can't prove that the volcano was responsible for all this," Verosub said. "But we hope to show that 1601 was a consistently bad year, connected by this event."

The previous major eruption that might have affected global climate was in 1452-53, when records were much less complete: in Europe, people began to take more careful note of the natural world after the Renaissance. The 1815 Tambora eruption in Indonesia had a well-documented impact on global agriculture, so such eruptions may occur as often as every 200 years, Verosub noted.

Verosub hopes to expand the study by examining records kept by the Jesuit order in Seville, Spain, and from the Ming Dynasty in China.

The initial results are presented in an article in Eos, the transactions of the American Geophysical Union.

Ethiopian famine: how landmark BBC report influenced modern coverage

The 30th anniversary of a key moment in modern TV journalism will be marked on 23 October: Michael Buerk’s broadcast of a “biblical famine”, filmed in a remote part of northern Ethiopia. The images shot by Kenyan cameraman Mohammed Amin, together with Buerk’s powerful words, produced one of the most famous television reports of the late 20th century.

Long before satellite, social media and YouTube, the BBC news item from Ethiopia went viral – transmitted by 425 television stations worldwide. It was even broadcast on a major US news channel, without revoicing Buerk’s original English commentary – something that was almost unheard of. Bob Geldof viewed the news that day and, as a result, that famine report eventually became the focus of a new style of celebrity fundraising. This produced another key television memory, the Live Aid extravaganza in July 1985, which itself became a transforming moment in modern media history.

In the aftermath of Buerk’s news story there were handwringing postmortems within aid agencies and governments. Why had no one been able to focus crucial media attention much earlier, when the widespread food shortages were first becoming evident? The conclusion was that often a famine is only judged to be newsworthy once horrible images are present. But, worryingly, after the famine in east Africa in 2011, similar criticism of media interest coming too late was still being made.

Today, the same thing is happening elsewhere in Africa. BBC correspondent Mark Doyle tweeted in July 2014 that “famines are sexy, predicting them is not,” drawing attention to a report on the approaching disaster in South Sudan. Just as in 1980s Ethiopia and 2011 Somalia, the conclusions of Amartya Sen are being played out: famine is not a natural disaster but a result of social and political factors, where vulnerable groups lose their entitlement to food.

The preference for keeping the story simple omits the crucial social and political context of famine. In 1984 the authoritarian Ethiopian regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam was fighting a civil war against Tigrayan and Eritrean insurgents. It is no accident that these were the areas starving because, to a large extent, the government was deliberately causing the famine. It was bombing markets and trade convoys to disrupt food supply chains. Defence spending accounted for half of Ethiopia’s GDP and the Soviet-backed army was the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet this story of man-made misery was sidestepped. Instead, the reporting was about failing rains, which kept things simple for both journalists and aid agencies. This also suited an authoritarian government that did not want foreign journalists nosing around. The UK government also stuck to the simple narrative. The urgent departmental response group, which met daily to brief senior ministers in reaction to the BBC news reports, called itself the Ethiopian drought group – in the belief that this was what the problem was all about.

It was not only the simplification that impaired the reporting but crucial omissions and a misunderstanding of much of the aid effort. The Tigrayan guerilla leader, Meles Zenawi, later Ethiopia’s prime minister, admitted how easily the rebels could fool the western agencies and use the aid for military purposes.

The Ethiopian government also had deliberate strategies to manipulate donations in pursuit of its brutal resettlement policies. Victims of famine were lured into feeding camps only to be forced on to planes and transported far away from their homes. Some estimate the number of deaths from this policy to be higher than those from famine.

And again, the secrecy and brutality of Mengistu’s regime made it relatively straightforward to divert aid and deceive outsiders. Some aid agencies, including Médecins sans Frontières, realised what was happening and protested – leading to their expulsion from Ethiopia. Others preferred to keep quiet and stay. The minutes of the Band Aid Charitable Trust reveal inklings of misuse and misappropriation of aid, but indicate a view was taken that it was better not to object.

Little of this messy complexity was conveyed by the media at the time to audiences who had empathised with the victims, donated generously and wanted to see suffering relieved. Aid agencies know that straightforward natural disasters are much easier to communicate than trickier man-made crises.

Fundraising for the humanitarian disaster in Syria has been difficult – a complex story without clear goodies and baddies is not an easy one to convey, either for journalists or NGOs.

So how much has changed since Buerk reported from Ethiopia? In 1984 the only voices were from a white reporter and a European aid worker. A contemporary news report would be more inclusive. But much is the same. Not only has the problem of the media ignoring famine until it is a catastrophe and then simplifying the explanation recurred many times, but also some of the same abuses associated with resettlement are still taking place in Ethiopia.

There is also the vexed question of stereotypical depictions of Africa. After 1984 there was much examination and criticism of “African-pessimism” and negative framing of the continent. But many images used in fundraising and reporting Africa still rely on those same tropes. Even today, the nexus of politics, media and aid are influenced by the coverage of a famine 30 years ago.

Suzanne Franks, a former BBC journalist, is a professor of journalism at City University, London, and author of Reporting Disasters: Famine, Aid, Politics and the Media

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