Science  04 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6154, pp. 21

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  1. ID'ed: Culprit Behind Medieval Eruption

    About 750 years ago, around 1257 or 1258 C.E., a powerful volcano erupted somewhere on Earth. That much of the story is written in polar ice cores: The amount of sulfur the volcano sent into the stratosphere was eight times as much as the Krakatau eruption in 1883 and twice as much as that of Tambora in 1815. The climate impact in the Northern Hemisphere was pronounced: a cold summer, incessant rains, floods, and poor harvests, according to medieval records.

    But identifying the volcano responsible has been tricky. Now, using geochemical, stratigraphical, and even historical data, a team of scientists has identified a likely culprit: Indonesia's Samalas volcano, on Lombok Island. Babad Lombok, Indonesian historical records written on palm leaves in Old Javanese, describe a catastrophic eruption of Samalas before the end of the 13th century that devastated surrounding villages with ash and fast-moving sweeps of hot rock and gas.

    Studying outcrops and sediment analyses of these deposits, the researchers estimated the volume of ash erupted and the height of the eruption plume and reconstructed the original caldera topography—all pointing to an eruption of magnitude 7, making it one of the largest in the Holocene, the team reports this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.