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Volcano 'drove up UK death toll'

BBC Science

What caught my eye here was the combination of historical research and current scientific analysis...

Volcanic eruptions in Iceland probably caused an unusual rise in deaths in England during the summer of 1783.

UK experts suggest a cloud of volcanic gases and particles sweeping south from the Laki Craters event of that year may have killed more than 10,000 people. The team combed climate data, burial records and contemporary accounts that reported a "volcanic haze" and health problems in the English population.

The University of Cambridge study is carried in the Bulletin of Volcanology.

The eruptions at the Laki Craters began on 8 June, 1783, and continued for eight months. An estimated 122 megatonnes of sulphur dioxide was released, along with smaller amounts of other gases, from explosive fissures and vents and from lava flows.

A thick, hot vapour had for several days before filled up the valley...so that both the Sun and Moon appeared like heated brick-bars - Gentleman's Magazine, July 1783

In Iceland alone, some 9,000 people - about a quarter of the population - were killed. [At least in part because their flocks of sheep suffered]. But the massive discharge from beneath the Earth also fumigated many parts of Europe with volcanic gases and airborne particles.

Claire Witham and Clive Oppenheimer looked at the burial records for 404 church parishes in 39 English counties. They discovered there were two peaks in mortality during the Laki Craters event. The first occurred between August and September 1783, the second between January and February 1784. In both cases, the worst affected region was the east of England.

Central England temperature data shows the summer of 1783 was particularly hot and that the first months of 1784 were amongst the coldest on record. The researchers hypothesised that some part of the mortality peaks could be attributed to these temperature extremes.

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