As increased seismic activity in the south of Iceland piques the interest of people around the world, the question is simple. What would happen if Iceland had another large eruption? That’s not easy to predict. It depends where the eruption happens and for how long. It could not only mess with international travel, as the impossible to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, but also it could, in these tumultuous times, trigger something much larger. You know, like the time an eruption here led to the French Revolution.
From June 8, 1783 to February 1784, Laki erupted in the south of Iceland, blowing sulphur, ash and other debris into the earth’s atmosphere. The first people affected by this were the Icelanders, with the poisonous fumes from the eruption eradication agriculture and livestock. This lead to a famine which wiped out nearly a quarter of the population. The effects of the eruption spread around the northern hemisphere leading to famines in Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and even Egypt.
The pollution from the eruption stalled the typical asian monsoon season and left the people of Egypt without the needed access to produce and livestock. The economic strain of these famines was felt all around the world–even as far as in North America.
“There appears to be a constant fog over Europe,” wrote Benjamin Franklin. “It’s even over a large part of North America.” The drastic changes to weather produced by the eruption led to the Mississippi freezing in New Orleans.
All of this stress and strain, with year-after-year of economic hardship, finally resulted in the French Revolution. The extreme weather caused a drought, which caused food poverty. With exhaustion and frustration already high, the indifference of the aristocracy enraged the public and in 1789, a little less than six years after the eruption of Laki, the French Revolution began.
What will happen this time around? Will the world be able to handle another major eruption? We think so. We’re all in this together after all.