Saturday, August 20, 2011

Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death

1816 was the year the crops simultaneously failed in Western Europe, North America and China. Approximate European fatality total was 200,000 deaths with an unknown (to me) number of deaths in other places in the northern hemisphere.

Food riots broke out in the United Kingdom and France, and grain warehouses were looted. The violence was worst in landlocked Switzerland, where famine caused the government to declare a national emergency.

Rice production in Yunnan province was devastated, resulting in widespread famine. Heilongjiang province, reported fields disrupted by frost and conscripts deserting as a result. Summer snowfall was reported in various locations in Jiangxi and Anhui provinces, both in the south of the country. On Taiwan, which has a tropical climate, snow was reported in Hsinchu and Miaoli, while frost was reported in Changhua.

The New England corn crop failed and in other places very low yields were reported.

Severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease by about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), resulting in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

It is believed that the anomaly was caused by a combination of a historic low in solar activity with a volcanic winter event, the latter caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions capped off by the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815, the largest known eruption in over 1,300 years.

On the plus side, the lack of oats to feed horses may have inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to the invention of the draisine or velocipede. This was the ancestor of the modern bicycle and a step toward mechanised personal transport

The above is adapted from this Wikipedia page. I'd never heard of it before stumbling on it today. 

There's obvious parallels to the effects that global warming are expected to have on agriculture in the years to come. The big difference is that 1816 was clearly an act of nature and nothing we could have done would have changed the climatic outcome. Europe was hit more severely by the crop shortage than it might have otherwise been  because the economy was still recovering from the Napoleonic wars, but the shortages would still have happened.

This article is largely a reproduction of excerpts from a Wikipedia page and is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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