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Lesser Sunda Islands


Space Shuttle photo STS049-097-054 taken in May 1992 and looking northeast across Tambora.

Tambora is a stratovolcano, forming the Sanggar peninsula of Sumbawa Island. The diameter of the volcano at sea-level is about 38 miles (60 km). Prior to the 1815 eruption, the volcano may have been as tall as 13,000 feet (4,000 m). The 1815 eruption formed a caldera about 4 miles (6 km) in diameter. The caldera is 3,640 feet (1,110 m) deep.

Photo STS047-0071-0083 of Tambora from the Space Shuttle.

The 1815 eruption of Tambora was the largest eruption in historic time. About 150 cubic kilometers of ash were erupted (about 150 times more than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens). Ash fell as far as 800 miles (1,300 km) from the volcano. In central Java and Kalimantan, 550 miles (900 km) from the eruption, one centimeter of ash fell. The Volcanic Explosivity of the eruption was 7. The eruption column reached a height of about 28 miles (44 km). The collapse of the eruption column produced numerous pyroclastic flows. As these hot pyroclastic flows reached the ocean where they caused additional explosions. During these explosions, most of the fine-fraction of the ash was removed. The eruption formed a caldera. An estimated 92,000 people were killed by the eruption. About 10,000 direct deaths were caused by bomb impacts, tephra fall, and pyroclastic flows. An estimated 82,000 were killed indirectly by the eruption by starvation, disease, and hunger.

Photo STS068-0263-0008 of Tambora from the Space Shuttle.

The 1815 eruption of Tambora caused the "Year without a Summer." Daily minimum temperatures were abnormally low in the northern hemisphere from late spring to early autumn. Famine was widespread because of crop failures.


Francis, P., 1994, Volcanoes a planetary perspective: Oxford University Press, New York, 443 p.

Self, S., Rampino, M.R., Newton, M.S., and Wolff, J.A., 1989, Volcanological Study of the Great Tambora Eruption of 1815: Geology, v. 12, p. 659-663.

Sigurdsson, H., and Carey, S., 1989, Plinian and Co-Igmibrite Tephra Fall from the 1815 Eruption of Tambora Volcano: Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 51, p. 243-270.

Stothers, R.B., 1984, The Great Tambora Eruption of 1815 and Its Aftermath: Science, v. 224, 1191-1198.