Pompeii of the East? Clues to mystery mega volcano that blew 7 centuries ago.
A volcano in Indonesia, Mt. Samalas, is now the leading suspect for an eruption that pumped more sulfur into the stratosphere than any in the past 7,000 years. Here's how scientists figured it out.
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With the evidence appearing at the top and bottom of the world, researchers were led to hunt for suspects relatively close to the equator. Among the candidates: Okataina in New Zealand, El Chichon in Mexico, and Ecuador's Quilotoa.Skip to next paragraph
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Lavigne's team, which included researchers from France, Switzerland, Britain, and Indonesia, found references in an Indonesian historical poem known as the Babad Lombok, originally written in Old Javanese on palm leaves.
The poem refers to earthquakes and the collapse of Mt. Salamas at a time that coincided with the ice core records, leading to many deaths and the evacuation of large numbers of people, including the king and his entourage.
Extensive fieldwork on the island of Lombok, which hosts the crater and its lake, as well as a comparison of the chemical composition of volcanic deposits in the ice cores and on the island, tree-ring data, and radiocarbon dates on charcoals the team uncovered provided what the team considered a "unique and compelling candidate" for the source of the eruption.
The other potential candidates dropped off the list because the eruptions in question either fell out of the time period the ice cores indicated, were too weak to spread as much of their sulfates and debris over such large distances, or the chemistry of the debris failed to match that of the ice-core data.
The eruption could help explain unusually cold, wet weather Europe experienced in 1258, the team suggests. When vaulted into the stratosphere, sulfate aerosols from volcanic eruptions tend to linger, reflecting sunlight back into space, even as high-altitude dust further cut the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface. Lavigne's team notes that mass burials occurred in London in 1258, which could be tied to the Samalas's effect on climate.
The monks at St. Albans Abbey in Britain recorded unusually cold and wet weather in 1258, as did observers in France, where floods and food shortages occurred.
The study, which appeared Monday in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doesn't explain why sulfate deposits in Greenland's ice cores are slightly thicker than those found in Antarctica, Sigurdsson notes. Researchers have suggested that the difference points to a Northern-Hemisphere source for the missing eruption. And the case could become more compelling if Lavigne and his team had matched a larger number of chemicals in the volcanic dust samples from ice cores and Samalas.
Still, he says, "I'm pretty convinced" by the evidence the team does present.
In 2006, Sigurdsson reported evidence that pointed to the discovery of the island capital Tambora's eruption buried, suggesting a Pompeii of the East. Lavigne's team speculates that yet another Pompeii of the East may await discovery – Pamatan, Lombok's capital at the time of the eruption.
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