Associate 2010-11

Gillen D’Arcy Wood


Wood imageThe Tambora Project

The Tambora Project is designed to reconstruct, on a global scale and in contemporary multimedia formats, the most destructive episode of worldwide climate change in the modern historical record. Professor Wood is principal investigator for the project.

The 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora, in Indonesia, was the largest volcanic event of the past 10,000 years. The massive load of sulfate aerosols injected into the upper atmosphere affected the global climate system, producing a thermal deficit and rainfall anomalies that, in turn, devastated human communities worldwide. The Tambora event was a primary contributing factor to the first outbreak of modern epidemic cholera in India, and it precipitated waves of famine, disease, and social unrest that threatened regions from India and China to Western Europe and New England. Social impacts included high mortality, mass displacement and refugeeism, decimation of trade, anti-state violence, and a revival of authoritarian government. Tambora thus offers an invaluable modern case study in the consequences, both environmental and human, of dramatic climate change.

Innovative features of the Tambora Project are its collaboration across a variety of disciplinary fields and its multimedia approach to content delivery. Four main products are planned: a computer simulation of the dispersal of volcanic sulfate aerosols through the global climate system of 1815-18; an online “map” that reconstructs the event’s climatological, environmental, and sociohistorical impacts; a fieldwork blog of Professor Wood’s tour of the affected zones; and a book that reconstructs the historical Tambora event with an eye to current climate-change impacts and policy worldwide.

During his Center appointment, Professor Wood will conduct research in Southeast Asia and oversee the many components of the overall project. He aims to complete the Tambora Project by 2015, the 200th anniversary of the devastating eruption.