Crusing

Passing through Sumbawa and Lombok …

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To the north west of Sumbawa there is an enormous volcano…

We had left the wild waters of the strait behind us, and were heading west again, to the north of the Sunda Islands and towards Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali. Right now we are sailing past the island of Sumbawa, which is not as well-known as Flores and Lombok. Sumbawa is a rather dry island, and is home to a monster well known to volcanologists. It is a terrifyingly powerful volcano, which holds all sorts of records: Tambora. For a few hours, an easterly breeze pushed us along around the never ending cone of the volcano, whose highest slopes were shrouded in cloud. As we were sailing around the volcano's foothills, I decided to find out about Tambora. I love travelling around and investigating whatever new things crop up. Indonesia is obviously home to many majestic volcanoes, but what makes Tambora particularly interesting, is that it was responsible for the first global climatic event of the modern era. Its dimensions are enormous: a base diameter of 60km, with the volcanic caldera alone being 6km wide. It is also 1,100m deep, thanks to the cataclysmic 1815 eruption. The last eruption was in 1967, since when the volcano has been dormant. Thank goodness for that! We sailed discretely around the base of the volcano. Before 1815 the volcano was thought to be around 4,300m high. That's quite something when you consider that it rises straight out of the sea. In just a few hours it lost 1,500m!!! Obviously, Tambora getting decapitated like that wasn't going to happen without noise, smoke or damage. After a bit of rumbling which indicated that an eruption could be imminent, there was a first explosion on April 5th 1815. It could be heard as far away as Batavia (Jakarta today), some 1,300km away! However, in the capital of the Dutch colony, it took a while to work out where the noise had come from. They understood when the town was covered in ash… The main eruption took place on April 10th. The column of ash and debris rose 45km into the sky, ash rained down all around and a violent shock wave destroyed the village of Sanggar, 30 km east of the crater. Between 11,000 and 12,000 people were killed in the eruption, but around 50,000 were killed by the tsunamis, famine and epidemics which followed, mainly on the islands of Sumbawa and Lombok. However, the most remarkable things about this eruption (and it's the first time that we became aware of such an event), were the global, climatic consequences caused by the massive amount of ash thrown into the atmosphere by Tambora. Archives from the period allow us to follow the worldwide influence that the eruption had on the way the atmosphere worked, something that was not really understood at the time. Far away from the island of Sumbawa, there were more insidious and longer lasting effects of the eruption. It is thought that in the three years which followed, up to 200,000 people around the world (who didn't even know that the volcano existed) ...

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