Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Geography: How the Sun and a Volcano Help Give Western Europe Monsters

Geography, in-part, is the study of human-environment interactions.  Such an interaction dealing with the Pacific Ring of Fire and a giant ball of burning plasma 1 Astronomical Unit away from the Earth combined to create the necessary conditions in 1815 and 1816 to give Western Europe for the first time horror stories of undead and science trying to usurp the role of God.

Dalton Minimum

The sun quiets down.  From Wikipedia.

The world was just managing to exit the Little Ice Age when the Dalton Minimum hit with full force in the late 1700s.  Solar Activity collapsed for yet unexplained reasons.  The weaker solar activity lead, to what many scientists to believe, continued lower than normal temperatures throughout the world.

Mount Tamobra

Ring of Fire.  From Wikipedia.
The Pacific Ring of Fire extends into Indonesia along the collision zone between the Pacific and Australian plates.  One of the main volcanoes at this seismic, geologic zone is Mount Tambora


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This volcano was 14,100 feet (4,300 meters) high until April 10, 1815 when it became site of the largest recorded volcano eruption of all time.

Mount Tamobra was reduced to 8,930 feet (2,722 meters) as ash and debris spread across the world with violent force.  The major long term effect of this eruption was the steady cooling in 1815 and 1816; making 1816 the coldest year since 1400.  1816 became known as the "Year without Summer"

Year without Summer Ruins a Trip

The Dalton Minimum and the Volcanic Winter caused a noticeable, sudden drop in worldwide temperatures.  The Year without Summer also experienced less sunny days and more rain as the atmospheric cycle attempted to rid the air of the pollutants.

Really cold in Geneva.  From Wikipedia
At this time several well known British authors were summering along Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John William Poldori, and Lord Byron were forced to spend their free time indoors exchanging stories rather than enjoying the beach.  At this retreat in 1815 Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein after discussing the conflict between the Enlightenment and Romanticism.  Meanwhile Poldori and Bryon exchanged ideas concerning Poldori's recent visit to Eastern Europe and wrote drafts which eventually became the novel The Vampyre, the first Western vampire story which provided some basis for the world-famous Dracula novel decades later.

The great brains of these authors created the stories, but geography helped "lock them in a room" together and allowed seeds of modern horror to be planted.

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