On April 10, 1815, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history occurred on the small Indonesian island of Sumbawa. The Mount Tambora volcano, which had begun to awaken from its long slumber only days before, blasted a column of volcanic material, composed of roughly 50 cubic kilometers of magma and perhaps three times that volume worth of ash, more than 40 kilometers into the sky.

Casualties on Sumbawa and the neighboring islands approached 90,000, and the effect on the global climate was staggering. In many countries; people called 1816 “The Year Without A Summer.”

The hundreds of millions of tons of ash and sulfur dioxide from the eruption hanging in the atmosphere obscured light and heat from the sun, significantly lowering temperatures all over the planet. In some locations, this produced such drastic meteorological effects as snow and severe frost during normal summer months.

These weather changes ruined fields of crops and resulted in both famine and economic turmoil for many regions, including Europe and the United States. To suggest that the situation was gloomy would be a drastic understatement, but this very gloom indirectly produced one of the most famous novels ever written.


What famous novel was an indirect result of the devastating Mt. Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, which significantly impacted global climate conditions for more than a year?

The novel in question is none other than Frankenstein, begun in 1816 by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Shelley) thanks to a vacation ruined by the fallout from Mt. Tambora.

During the summer of 1816, Mary accompanied her sister Claire Clairmont to a vacation spot on the shores of Lake Geneva, where Mary’s soon-to-be husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, joined them. Their friend, fellow poet Lord Byron, was staying nearby. Unfortunately, the normally pleasant location was cold, wet, and gloomy due to the effects of Tambora’s ash.

One particular night, a Tambora-induced storm forced Mary and Percy to seek shelter with Lord Byron; the trio, along with Byron’s physician, John Polidori, spent the evening reading ghost stories aloud. The evening culminated in Byron’s famous challenge that each of them should compose an original ghost story.

Mary Shelley wins the notoriety prize for turning out the most famous result of Byron’s challenge. Just days later, she set down the first pages of what would become Frankenstein.