The Year Without a Summer — 200th Anniversary — Frankenstein’s Birthday

Year without a summer — 1816

Year Without a Summer: Volcanic Eruption
Tavurvur volcano, Papua New Guinea erupting. Tambora nearly 200 years earlier gave us a year without a summr. Photo: Taro Taylor (CC BY 2.0).

A year without a summer? I’m afraid so. Two hundred years ago this summer, the northern hemisphere did not enjoy the hot season we normally experience between spring and autumn. In its place was a cold, wet extension of early spring and late autumn. Crops failed. Untimely frosts killed sensitive plants. Thousands of people died of starvation. Thousands more were driven from their homes in search of warmer climate.

These were the climate refugees of the early 19th century—victims of global cooling.

How did it happen?

The previous year, Mount Tambora, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) blew its stack sky high, throwing roughly 41 cubic kilometers of pulverized rock into the atmosphere. Eruptions occurred between April 5 and April 15, 1815. This created a condition known as “volcanic winter,” and resulted in the year without a summer—1816.

Year Without a Summer: Graph of 2500 years of temperature.
2500 years of temperature reconstruction from GISP2 Greenland ice cores. Includes the year without a summer – 1816. Graph: Alley, 2000. Click on graph for full view.

On the scale which measures volcanic eruptions, a VEI–8 is the most violent. There have been only 47 known in the entire history of planet Earth that were this violent. The most recent VEI–8 was about 27,000 years ago in New Zealand. The volcanic explosivity index (VEI) for Tambora was a 7.

Several other smaller eruptions had occurred within the preceding decade. Each added dust into the atmosphere, but none were as potent as the Tambora eruption. To make matters worse, Earth was barely on its way out of the Little Ice Age which had crippled agriculture and commerce for more than 500 years.

This year without a summer was worse than most years of the Little Ice Age, but not nearly as bad as the 90,000 years prior to the start of the Holocene.

Global cooling can be deadly, but there are varying degrees of deadly cold. Ironically, people are fearing the warmth, and there is very little danger from that side of the thermometer.

Year Without a Summer: Graph of 120,000 years of temperature.
120,000 years of temperature reconstruction showing our year without a summer as a tiny sliver at the right. – RockyHigh66.Org – Mike McMillan. Click on the graph for full view.

Global average temperature dropped about 1 °C. That’s fast cooling. The 2–3 year rebound was also relatively fast warming—faster than the modern warming with which the UN keeps trying to scare us (1816–1819: 1 °C warming; 2000–2033: 1 °C warming projected by UN).

But as drastic as is a 1 °C drop in global average temperature, it’s tiny compared to the long drop to full Ice Age glacial conditions. The 120,000-year graph shows the Holocene on the far right—the thick blue squiggle after 8,000 BC. The thick red line shows the height of the 1 °C drop in global average temperature during the year without a summer. The actual location on the timeline is just to the left of the thick red bar. Notice how far down the temperature goes right before the start of the Holocene. That’s what we have to look forward to when the Holocene ends.

A Year Without a Summer, When Frankenstein Was Born

In the spring of 1816, Lord Byron and his pregnant girlfriend, Claire Clairmont, plus Claire’s stepsister, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her boyfriend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, arrived in Geneva, Switzerland for a summer holiday. They didn’t know that a volcano on the other side of the world would ruin their plans. They spent most of their vacation indoors, because of the dreary, cold and wet weather.

Year without a Summer: Frankenstein's Monster
Frankenstein’s monster played by Boris Karloff (1935). A year without a summer could turn anyone into a monster. (PD)

Mary called herself Mrs. Shelley, though the couple could not yet be married. Percy still had a wife and infant daughter back in England. Nearly three weeks after his estranged wife’s body was found drowned in a London recreational lake, Percy and Mary were married on December 30, 1816.

About their stay in Switzerland, Mary Shelley wrote years later, “It proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.” The travelers took up German ghost stories and long, philosophical conversations to entertain themselves.

It was during this year without a summer that Lord Byron challenged his fellow guests each to write a ghost story. Mary struggled for several days to find an idea. And then the inspiration struck her for a tale about reanimation of a dead body. Frankenstein’s monster was born.

CIA Director Wants to Create Another Year Without a Summer

Year Without a Summer: CIA Director John Brennan
John Brennan, CIA director, wants to cool down the planet like a volcano and give us all another year without a summer. Photo: US government (PD).

On June 29, 2016, CIA Director John Brennan gave a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations. In that talk he said wonderful things about a new technique for cooling down the planet. The technique was very much like the dust from a volcanic eruption.

Here we are in the midst of an Ice Age interglacial that’s overdue to end and the head of the CIA wants to cool things down like a volcano. This could give us more than a year without a summer. Clearly he doesn’t know climate science and also doesn’t know his history. His plan might not kill thousands and turn thousands of others into environmental refugees. But other factors make this a dangerous move that could end up killing billions, instead. For one, the sun is going into another solar minimum, like the Maunder Minimum associated with the depths of the Little Ice Age. This recent 550-year cold period resulted in worldwide hardships for all mid-latitude to polar cultures. Also, the Holocene shows a 3,000-year cooling trend that only deepened with the Little Ice Age. Could this be the sign that the Holocene is winding down, getting ready for the next glacial period of the current Ice Age? Could Brennan and his government idiots be about to trigger the inevitable end to our blessed warm period which made civilization possible? That could give us 90,000 years without any summers.

Putting “Scary” Global Warming into Perspective

Year Without Summer: NOAA GISP 2 Icecore.
Watts Up With That website produced an animated GIF file which shows clearly the modern warming period in perspective with the larger view of climate history. Edited for brevity. Courtesy: Click to view the animation.

The above graphs help to put the drastic, 1 °C drop in global average temperature into perspective for our year without a summer. The temperature drop was huge on the scale of years to decades, but tiny on the scale of glacials and interglacials.

The so-called “unprecedented” warming we’re now enjoying is nothing compared to what we’ve seen from past climate records. The animated picture file, here, shows how tiny our modern warming truly is.


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