Wednesday, June 23, 2010

1783, Iceland: Biggest Lava Flow in History

"June 22, 1783: Icelandic Volcano Disrupts Europe's Economy"
Wired (June 21, 2010)

"1783: Ash from the Laki volcano in Iceland arrives in Britain and northern France. It will linger for months, creating a hot summer, a very cold winter and thousands of deaths.

"Laki began erupting June 8. It produced the largest lava flow in historic times when a fissure 16 miles long sent a flow of pahoehoe (fast-moving, smooth or ropy lava) more than 40 miles, The 2.9 cubic miles of lava covered 218 square miles.

"Fluorine gas fell to the land as hydrofluoric acid in Iceland, dissolving the flesh off livestock. Fully half the horses and cattle, as well as three-quarters of the sheep died. Famine set in, the social order broke down and looting was rampant. Eventually, a quarter of Iceland's people died of starvation...."

Folks in Europe didn't have a particularly good time, either. Sulfur dioxide and heat, direct and indirect consequences of the eruption, killed "scores of thousands of deaths," as the article put it.

After the unusually hot summer, came a freakishly cold winter. The Mississippi River froze around New Orleans, Siberia and Alaska had the worst winters they'd experienced in about five centuries.

Compared to the Laki eruption's effects, well: Maybe airline delays aren't quite such a bit deal, after all.

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