Tambora’s long echo through history and culture. Part 1: 1815-1816

Tambora’s long echo through history and culture. Part 1: 1815-1816

By Talla Hopper

 Image1Weymouth Bay with approaching storm by John Constable. Painted in the summer of 1816

 As KarenZ told us in a previous post, on 5 April 1815 the first of a series of explosions occurred at Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago. They were heard by Stamford Raffles the governor of Java over 800 miles away and, though we may not be aware of it, we are still hearing their echoes today.

 

I am not a scientist or volcanologist but I am interested in the social and cultural consequences of eruptions in history. The Tambora volcano ranks as a 7 in the Volcanic Explosivity Index, compared to 5 for Vesuvius in 79AD or 6 for Krakatoa in 1883 or Pinatubo in 1991. It was the largest eruption in the last 2000 years and, as we shall see, it eventually killed millions of people.

 

Climate scientists talk of ‘geoengineering’ the effects of a large volcano in an attempt to halt global warming. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31475761 The effects of Tambora might change their minds.

 

In writing this article I have relied heavily on two recent books which cover both the immediate aftermath of the eruption and the longer term effects: ‘The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history’ by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman and ‘Tambora: the eruption that changed the world’ by Gillen d’Arcy Wood. I recommend both these books to anyone who wants to find out more about Tambora’s long reach.

 

As KarenZ explained, following the explosions of 5 April the main eruption occurred on the evening of 10 April. Within 24 hours it is estimated that the ash cloud was the size of Australia. Even 800 miles away Raffles reported that the ashfall was several inches thick.

 

The immediate death toll was horrific. Of the 12,000 inhabitants in the immediate vicinity of the volcano only 100 survived. The surrounding areas covered by ash were made uninhabitable, people, crops and animals died. Those who did not die immediately in the blast or tsunami died slowly of starvation or of respiratory infections caused by ash damage to their lungs. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 thousand people died this way. This was just the beginning of Tambora’s death toll.

 

The explosions heard across Indonesia and Java were thought by many that heard them to be cannon from ships at sea. The Napoleonic War was perhaps the first World War with British and French ships fighting engagements across their empires. In January, Napoleon had broken out of Elba and begun his 100 days of freedom before his defeat at Waterloo. None of those who heard the volcanic explosions knew the sound was far deadlier than cannon.

 

Millions of tonnes of sulphur-dioxide was blasted into the stratosphere by the eruption, there it combined with hydroxide gas to produce a vast cloud of sulphuric acid droplets. The tropical jet streams began to disperse the cloud firstly in an east to west direction and then swirling to the north and south. Within two weeks the equator was circled, within a few months the whole earth was covered. Only gravity, or the highest reaching storm systems, could drag the droplets down.

 

In the summer and autumn of 1815 the crimson sunsets were spectacular enough to cause comment, especially the brightly coloured high-altitude cirrus clouds.

 

It has been estimated that the cloud reflected only 0.5% to 1% of incoming solar energy but this was enough to produce a 3 degree Fahrenheit drop in northern hemisphere average temperature. The disruption strengthened the jet streams of air that circle both hemispheres thus causing ‘blocks’ to develop in what is normally a north-south oscillation. The block over North America dragged down polar air causing severe and prolonged cold weather while Europe was subjected to unceasing, heavy, cold rain. Further east the Ukraine was unbearably hot.

 

At this time very few people thought that a volcanic eruption could influence weather conditions (Benjamin Franklin was one of the few), so when northern Italy received the heaviest snowstorm in memory on 15 December 1815 no one gave any thought to an eruption 8 months earlier. The religious processions that followed were organised because the snow was red or yellow in colour. Soon after blizzards of “brown or flesh-coloured” snow swirled through Hungary killing 10,000 sheep and oxen.

 

In the Spring of 1816 Americans noticed that a sunspot was clearly visible on the sun and some believed the unnatural weather was caused by this phenomenon. Many people reported that they were able to observe this spot without causing eye damage because of a thick haze of fine dust which was similar to the ‘smoking vapour’ that had engulfed Europe after the eruption of Laki 30 years earlier.

 

Despite the haze the early months of 1861 were mild in the United States, also caused by Tambora, but as winter turned to spring the weather turned colder. Snow fell across Canada and the northern United States in April, May, June and July as far south as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There was no hope of a harvest. The year without summer continued with frosts as far south as South Carolina in August.

 

Dendrochronologists using data from tree rings believe that 1816 was the second coldest year since 1400. Only 1601 was colder – following an eruption in Peru. Although 1816 has gone down in history as ‘the Year Without Summer’ the following three years were also colder than normal.

 

In contrast to America’s mild winter, Europe had endured yet another cold and wet autumn and winter. Several other volcanoes, including Mount Mayon, had erupted in the first decade of the 19th century and the ten years before Tambora had been notably cold. Snow and sleet were still falling in England in April. Scotland experienced frost and snow from mid November 1815 to mid March 1816. Cattle had to be sold early for slaughter, as there was no winter feed. In Italy high farms still had snow covering them in May. Austria and Germany had very late frosts too.

 

The harvests were lost throughout the British Isles and most of Europe. The British government had kept the cost of wheat unnaturally high in order to protect the landowners during the Wars, now this high price caused suffering and famine as most labourers’ wages had to be spent on food. Manufacturing suffered as disposable incomes had disappeared. Bread riots broke out across England.

 

The rain continued throughout Europe accompanied by terrific thunderstorms. One English traveller spending the summer by the shore of Lake Geneva complained of “perpetual rain [which] confines us principally to the house” and described “thunderstorms …. grander and more terrific than I have ever seen before.” Brilliant streaks of lightening lit up the lake and “thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads amid the darkness”. Remember this traveller – we shall meet her in Part 2.

 

As the non-existent summer progressed floods broke out across central Europe drowning both the land and livestock. Germany and Switzerland were the worst affected but the harvests across the whole of Europe were ruined.

 

The terrible weather, combined with the sunspots and strange sunsets caused the superstitious to talk of the end of the world. Across the Americas and Europe there was an upsurge in church attendance. The usual number of ‘false prophets’ appeared to take advantage of the credulous.

 

As the crops failed, whole families took to the roads to try and find work, or a kindlier climate. The Smith family, who had been renting a farm in Norwich, Vermont, took to the road and finally settled in Palmyra in New York State. This area was full of “unusual excitement on the subject of religion” according to John Smith Jnr who was undoubtedly affected by this ferment as he went on to found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also called the Mormon Church.

 

In Ireland typhus broke out among the famine hit peasant farmers. The absentee landlords did little to help their distressed tenants in a situation which foreshadowed the more famous Potato Famine years later.

 

.Image2

Lancaster Sands by J.M.W. Turner. Painted in the summer of 1816. It gives an idea of the misery of the year.

 

Autumn or Fall brought a cold drought to add to the misery of America while the storms grew more intense throughout Europe with hail falling in Spain and Portugal.

The price of grains, especially wheat, now rose beyond the reach of the poorest. Farmers who had managed to harvest something were urged to think of their compatriots while merchants urged them to sell abroad. Meat, though, was relatively cheap (but still beyond the reach of the poor) as farmers had no feed to keep their animals alive through the winter. Many farmers in New England decided to sell up and move to pastures new in Ohio which had much land and banks prepared to offer cheap loans. In Europe there was no new land to move into, but many began to think of moving to the Americas. In addition to basic food shortages in Europe, the grape and olive harvests also suffered. Some governments stopped the use of grain for distilling spirits. Bread riots continued across Britain, but the populace did not unite in Revolution, which was the biggest fear of the government.

The cold rains of autumn turned to snow and sleet across Europe by November but in America the cold drought turned to a mild November and December. The self-reliant Americans did not suffer from famine like the Europeans; they had a culture of fending for themselves rather than having to buy all their food and could cope in years of hardship.

In Europe the misery continued through 1817 with riots in Britain, France and Switzerland. An estimated 60,000 died in Ireland from Typhus. Hundreds of thousands must have died from famine across Europe. The blanket of sulphuric acid took several years to abate and temperatures did not return to anything like normal until the summer of 1818.

In Part 2 we’ll see that Tambora affected the rest of the world apart from America and Europe, and we’ll see how it changed the way we see the world. The year without summer might be over, but Tambora’s deadly echo still rumbled on.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Klingaman, William K. & Klingaman, Nicholas P. The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history. St Martin’s Press, New York. 2013.

 

Wood, Gillen D’Arcy. Tambora: the eruption that changed the world. Princeton University Press. 2014

 

 

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56 thoughts on “Tambora’s long echo through history and culture. Part 1: 1815-1816

    • “There are some”

      Yeah, I’m one of those. The beginning of this cycle, and the rather anemic Solar Max of it are reminiscent of the activity leading into those “grand minima,” though its a bit hard to put a lot of stock in it. The officially recorded sunspot numbers are in question due to the changing observers and record keepers. Usoskin, who is a party to the Sun Spot working group that is attempting to resolve the variations in the count has written about Grand Minima and Maxima.

      http://arxiv.org/abs/0706.0385

      Whether or not we are entering one of these phases has yet to be made with any certainty.

      Additional source data: http://www.leif.org/research/

      The mechanism by which solar activity can have a profound effect is not clear. Naysays are usually quick to point out that observed variations in total solar irradiance do not correlate well with observed temperature variation. Svensmark postulated that Galactic Cosmic Radiation may act as a seeding mechanism that provides nucleation points for vapor condensation, leading to greater cloud formation. This idea was tested in CERN’s CLOUD experiment. The general conclusion was that yes, high energy cosmic rays can cause nucleation, but the caveat is that there has to be nitrogen present in order for the effect to be measurable. The last I heard, nitrogen is 78.084% of the atmosphere, so I don’t think a lack of nitrogen is much of an issue. The big tie in with GCRs is that during periods of low solar activity, GCRs cam make it deeper into the solar system.

      Whether any of this works out to be what it’s all about has yet to be seen. Competing theories are quite popular and tend to stymie alternate studies that might upset the applecart. (Which is odd, I always thought that science was to establish a theory and then try to prove it wrong in order to see if it stands up to testing. And if it fails, to come up with an explanation as to why.)

      I do know from researching previous articles for VC, that an eruption plume that makes it to the stratosphere has it’s SO2 turned into sulphate over a period peaking after about 2 months. This sulphate load then takes about 50 months to settle out to pre-eruption levels. That gives you about 2 years of dimming from a massive eruption.

    • Based on an FFT of the treeflow reconstructions for Salinas River at Paso Robles, there is a low waterflow signal that occurs at about 24.38 and 85.33 years for that watershed.

      Caveat: Not a hydrological engineer, not a geologist, just an observer. In my opinion, this tends to make me question all of the hype over California’s contrived “emergency.” Those deserts that are there didn’t get there by accident. It’s part of the region.

  1. Talla Thank you . I too am interested in the socio-economic results of volcanic activity. I think the turner painting of Lancaster sands sums definitely, as you say illustrates the misery that the dire weather caused.
    Those people are harvesting cockles. A couple of years ago many people lost their lives in the treacherous sand which rapidly turn to quicksands as the tide races in. I wonder how the sea’s harvest was affected if at all maybe fish farming will be the answer to future food shortages or would the increase in SO2
    affect the oceans also.A very interesting post Talla that raises some important questions for the future. I’m looking forward to the next part.
    It really is a scary thought as to how people would react to the famines and deep depression that sunless summers would bring. Even doomsday Preppers may find themselves running out of food and succumbing to disease.

    • “A city’s only ever three hot meals away from anarchy.”
      ― Alastair Reynolds, Terminal World

      “They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you’ll have an anarchy. And it’s true, isn’t it? You haven’t eaten for a couple of days, and you’ve turned into a barbarian.”

      ― Red Dwarf Series III, Episode 2

    • Thanks Diana! Yes, it was very interesting to read up on what happened after Tambora – I’ve only skimmed the surface in my posts: part 2 is even more depressing, but with some surprising twists! Only the very rich were shielded from what happened, but some fared better than others. The American farmers were able to ‘up sticks’ and move to the south and west, but that option would not be open to them now. The European refugees just seem to have roamed about looking for help, those that could emigrated west to America or east to Russia – which was not severely affected as the jet stream ‘block’ gave them a very hot summer. If you remember the petrol blockage at the beginning of the century in UK, all the problems were caused by panic buying of petrol and food.

      I think Lurking is right – we are probably only 3 meals away from anarchy, but only because we panic into overbuying. We even do it at Bank Holidays when we buy a week’s food because the shops are closed for one day.

      The biggest problems seem to be delayed – as you’ll see in part 2, The knock-on events are still causing major problems today – 200 years on.

      • I’m a natural pessimist. Benjamin Franklin is purported to have had the philosophy of “expect the worst, if it doesn’t happen, you are elated”. So, when stuck wandering the aisles at a local Walmart dutifully following the wife around, I did a few estimates of some of the shelves in the grocery section. Based on my sporadic examination of three different sections, I came up with a guess of each foot of shelf space having enough caloric content to support 125 to 225 people with food for one day, on a bare minimum of 1500 calories per-day. (at the 95% conf interval) I have been toying around with how to flesh out that idea with more data, but I am afraid that I would draw too much attention if I go and do a better data gathering project.

        Where this is important.

        If society fully collapses. Humankind will be relegated to hunter-gather status once again. Whatever population that remains, will immediately switch to foraging. When the available food in grocers and markets runs out, the population will then try to find nourishment from the countryside. That is the point where things will go down-hill quite fast. Those who have land are not going to be very happy with interlopers. In my opinion, there will be a period where survivors may find themselves in a “state of nature” (as denoted by Thomas Hobbes). How quickly the population can leave that state and become a cohesive group will determine just how humankind make it through whatever catastrophe it is. Whatever that formative culture is, a persons worth to it will depend on what they can “bring to the table” that helps the society. Knowing how to dress wounds, or how to brew alcohol can become quite handy and a barterable commodity.

        (injuries are normal events, and alcohol can disinfect or act as a leisure-time activity, or as a fuel.)

        • True. For me it is mostly a thought experiment. Something to keep me flopping around in bed at night, trying to go to sleep. I have at times, been introspective of what my core skill sets are, and on occasion tried to develop some that could be useful in such a mad land.


          I had a chance to experience the initial stages of the catastrophe scenario after Hurricane Ivan. We weren’t wiped out, but most infrastructure and services were not initially available. The first thing we did was to make sure that the residence was secure and safe, then to figure out the food situation. As neighbors, we kept an eye on each other’s place to make sure there were no looters around and offered assistance where needed. Eventually the sheriff’s department was able to get back into a patrol schedule and things felt a bit more secure after that. The road past my house is one of the main routes to the local power station so it was cleared in short order. Having that meant that fire and emergency services could get here if they needed to. The greatest problems that we had were food, water and staying cool. A sack of potatoes can go a long way in helping you get by.

          • Can’t imagine what oat beer tastes like. If it is anything like porridge, you could try adding fruit, honey, treacle, whisky or salt (but not all together 🙂 ).

            • Note: She is reffering to my horrible 50% Oat beer that I had mentioned before I edited it out. It is some of the most vile stuff I have ever brewed.

              Historically, oat based beer was only sold to sailors near peirside bars and taverns. Since I am a ex-sailor, I was interested in how it tasted. (the same historical curiosity that motivated me to make a batch of authentic hard-tack. It’s not as bad an experience on the taste buds.)

            • No… it’s not a porridge. Not even close. It might be handy to have a shot of whiskey afterwards, just to get the taste out of your mouth.

            • Friend of mine brewed mead once, (honey beer, in effect.) worst hangover I ever had.
              (The Cherokee in me won over the Scot/Irish/Viking part that’s why I quit..) Never did try Oats..
              Being in the high lonesome of NE Oregon we are a bit better prepared to weather
              a bad spot. If nothing else, the group of Mule Deer does and wild turkeys that are endemic here are a start…

            • Heh, yeah, if you can get away from the city, deer are available here, though our deer trend on the small side, not much larger than a great dane. I had pondered the meat thing, and the only real protein source where I live at are the squirrels frequenting the oak tree in the back yard. The 12 gage might draw attention and limit your take to one or two squirrels if you are lucky, but snares would work just fine. That’s still only one or two days worth of protein. (BTW, it is possible to starve on a diet of only eating squirrel. The meat is that lean.) I think the idea subsistence herd animal is goat or sheep, provided you have enough room for them. That and chickens, though you would be hard pressed at getting milk from a chicken.

              As for homebrew, try lapin lemmenjuoma. Essentially it is fermented blueberries using the natural yeast that occurs on the berries. Mine came out as a fruity rendering of turpentine. After racking down a batch, I have found that over time, the turpentine flavor starts to diminish as it ages a bit.

    • Yeah. I’m anything but a doomer (I’ve long argued how much a waste of life it is to be a full-on prepper). But, I’ve wondered the same thing. In modern times with modern technology, we’ve never truly experienced a full-scale famine. Modern farming technology and the nature of globalization has prevented things like that from happening in modern times.

      Example: Conditions were pretty dire in the Phillipines after the enormous cyclone that hit them right after a big quake also hit them. But thanks to modern day supply chains, it was simple to get clean water and food to those in need. It’s truly a miracle of the modern age that we shouldn’t take for granted.

      With that said, that’s an example of a localized shortage in food supply that the world’s food supply was easily able to accomodate for.

      And while modern technology can compensate for many problems that we’ve had in the past, there are different and new issues that are prevalent now that weren’t in the past. Most being, the fact that our population isn’t slowing down, and we have way way more people on earth than we ever did in the past.

      There is already speculation that modern crop technology won’t be able to meet the world’s food needs by the time 2050 hits. So what happens when global food supply is pinched by a volcanic winter in modern times? Lets say a decent sized VEI-7 hits. What happens when global crop yields take a major dive?

      Based off past history, it will most likely be the already poor countries that suffer the most. We also would likely see a decent volume of government upheaval.

  2. Interesting article Talla, thank you!
    An interesting part is that, apart from the Dalton minimum, weathersystems were ‘blocked’ (were moving slowly). Something that seems to happen in recent years too and probably happens again and again with intervals. The cause of the blocking isn’t very well understood I think. Would systems have slowed down extra by the eruption in 1815?

    Looking forward to part two … 🙂

    • Hi Rob, thanks! Yes, the weather systems were definitely slowed down by the eruption. The science behind it is complicated, but is properly explained in both the books I mentioned, Gillen d’Arcy Wood also makes the connection with the current climate. He believes that pollution may be causing similar problems to Tambora – this is obviously not something that everyone agrees with! Tambora was the last element in a Perfect Storm. It came at the end of an unsettled decade when several large volcanoes erupted, during the Dalton minimum, at the end of a period of prolonged war, and during a period of expanding trade when large numbers of people were on the move.

    • Blocking of weather patterns can happen from two causes: sea temperatures, and upper atmosphere disturbance. The Atlantic goes through phases of higher and lower temperatures at high latitudes (probably messed up now because of the melting of the sea ice) and that affects climate. In this case though it must be the upper atmosphere: the sulphur high up absorbs sunlight and therefore heats that layer in the atmosphere. That could affect the jet stream. You play with the atmosphere at your peril. Oceans take a long time to respond but the atmosphere will get you immediately.

      I did look into the relation between global temperatures and sunspots once and was far from convinced. The correlation between the Maunder minimum and the little ice age seemed not strong enough to qualify as evidence.

      • You’re absolutely right about the causes of the blocking, we last had it in a big way in the winter of 2013/14 when a succession of big storms hit southern Britain one after another. I believe this corresponded to a very cold period in the eastern States of the US. Imagine that pattern continuing through the whole of last year and you have the weather of 1816!

  3. “Weymouth” as in “Weymouth Bay” was mentioned in the article.

    Okay, lets hear Tina Weymouth on bass. 😀

    My only real annoyance with this is that she was 180° out of step with the rest of the band during much of there in-place running.

  4. And on the interesting geologic fact scene, the Dead Sea Transform fault system was responsible for the estimated Mag 7.6 1202 Syria earthquake. At it’s current average rate of motion, there should be about 3.3 to 4.5 meters of built up potential displacement along the system…. good for a Mag 7.4 to 7.6 quake. The estimated recurance rate is on the order of 1020 to 1175 years for the Yammouneh fault. When will it happen? Your guess is as good as mine, but in my opinion, when ever it gets around to it. It has quite a bit if potential displacement at the ready.

  5. Saturday afternoon rant.

    A really good friend of mine, who disappointed me with a comment of his a couple of years ago, stated “Oh, keeping up with the Jones eh?” when I had made note of needing to cut my yard. I took great offense at that since I could care less that someone thinks my yard looks better than theirs. As long as it looks presentable and not like an overgrown junk heap, I’m okay with it. Since then I have had a bit of loathing for doing yard work, on top of the other gripes about doing it. Well, today I was going to do the yard. Having been laid up all winter, the battery on my mower is shot. That’s somewhat normal. Lawnmower batteries generally have a haphazard charge history, no always getting fully charged from their last crank cycle. So, time to jumpstart it. I crank my van and get out the cables. Peering around the engine compartment for a few minutes, I realize that they have managed to hide the battery quite well. Okay, use the wifes car since I know where that one it at. Dead as a door nail. Again, not that out of the ordinary. She tends to neglect cranking her car for looong periods of time. Okay, locate the battery charger. Nope. Not to be found. I gripe at the wife about the grandkid borrowing stuff and not returning it. Not unusual, but he has been getting better at it. While silently cursing at my plight, I notice my battery charger tucked up underneath a bench behind a box. Not where I keep it at, but it is present after all. I go tell the wife that he did in fact return it, but not to where it is supposed to be. (I actually have a shelf attached to the wall for the purposes of overnight charging the mower). So, I get it on fast charge but cant get enough power into the battery to get a start cycle. Then it starts to sprinkle. Okay, bail on that project and let it charge overnight. Maybe tomorrow will be dry enough to get in a cutting. I’ve had less trouble helping my uncle get his tractor going to cut hay. (eons ago)

    At this point I am less surprised that the IT guy over in the next county keeled over from a heart attack while doing yard work. It can be a stress monster.

    • There now. Feel better? 🙂 It’s always good to vent than have a major eruption. I’m glad you spotted the battery charger before a pyroclastic flow or lava bombs happened. 😀

    • Well, this is the same grandkid that I pinned up against the wall by the throat when he was younger when he drew back his hand like he was gonna hit is mother. I politely told him that was not gonna fly around me. He has since moderated his attitude and seems to be developing a pretty sound work ethic and doesn’t mind getting dirty. One job that he had was essentially the civilian equivalent of being a boiler snipe. Tearing down a boiler firebox for overhaul is not something for the grime averse.

      I don’t mind him using my tools and stuff, as long as he puts them back where he found them.

  6. Way OT.

    For those of you who poke around looking for hints of Black Swans… I think there may be one forming.

    IMF tells regulators to brace for global ‘liquidity shock’
    Financial engineering that preceded the last two financial crises is back, International Monetary Fund warns

    This is not the first article that I have read this weekend discussing the liquidity issue. Friday’s $279.47 sell off in the DOW was a 2.29 sigma event. Not “Black Swan” in the classical sense, but not something you want to see happening on back to back days. (gray + gray = black I guess) 2.29 sigma is in the 2.59% random chance realm.

    • This is a long time coming. Each country will have to deal with it. Digital printing our money here in the states is like putting a band aid on the hole of the Titanic. It can only be put off for so long. It’s best to be prepared for it the best you can. It would’ve been better when it all started to have let it take it’s course.

    • And from that, I think you are in the correction line of thinking. One idea that I have seen kicked around a bit, is that the issue with the whole Bernake thesis of “Dollars thrown out of helicopters” as a way to fix the “great” depression, and essentially put into play for the 2008 shindig, is that the tactic only serves to delay the inevitable pain of the system correcting itself.

      I’ve mentioned “The Formula that killed Wall street” before, and I was a bit suspicious that David X. Li, the author of the Gaussian Cupola that fund managers relied on to index securities, had gone back to China. I found recently that he had gone to work for China International Capital Corporation as head of the risk management department. Telling, since that is their largest investment banking company. But, he no work there no more. Seems he has hired on with AIG.

      You can’t really fault him for killing the market back in 2008, all he did was provide a tool that allowed banks to deal with the sticky situation of being forced to write mortgages for people who had no conceivable way of paying them off. They found a way to turn a buck off of it and the cupola gave them a tool that could help them estimate risk. Li himself stated “Very few people understand the essence of the model.” “The current copula framework gains its popularity owing to its simplicity….However, there is little theoretical justification of the current framework from financial economics….We essentially have a credit portfolio model without solid credit portfolio theory.”

      And, the champion of the Black Swan concept, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, said “People got very excited about the Gaussian copula because of its mathematical elegance, but the thing never worked. Co-association between securities is not measurable using correlation”

      Why? Well, at the heart of the Cupola, is the Gaussian curve or distribution. The Gaussian distribution has been stated (by Taleb) to have too narrow of a tail. In other words, the curve trails off to near zero much to fast to account for the inevitable outliers that are in almost any data set. Carl has the idea (in my opinion quite valid) that if you carry the function out to infinity, that the sum of the infinitesimal provabilities out there pretty much dictate that the ultra rare event has to occur sometime. This is sort of the idea behind infinite probability theory.

      I did manage to track down a copy of Li’s actual paper

      http://cyrusfarivar.com/docs/li.defaultcorrelation.pdf

      And, it seems that Li’s work is based off of the idea of “survivor functions” which comes from the field of actuarial science. In other words, insurance underwriters. That sort of explains why he is now with AIG.

      From what I have seen, there evidently is a lot of morbid fascination with the subject, and how to turn a buck off of people’s fear of dieing.

      This plot plainly shows the “folly of youth” and how it drastically affects young males more than females.

  7. Thanks Talla – wonderful article and timely! Yesterday I went to a talk about a volcano a few km from me – Mt Garbaldi near Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. Fascinating to hear about it and the 12 smaller accompanying domes, tables and cones, most of which had erupted through the then-glacier as recently as 7500 yrs ago. Dr. Bob Turner presented photos of what this might have looked like, including this one of Grimsvotn from 2004 by Matthew j Roberts of IMO. Thought I others here might like to see it, as we watch and wait –

    http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=373010

  8. Speaking of silicic eruptions here is a nice article on the Havre volcano in one of our local newspapers. Havre produced large pumice rafts when it erupted not long ago – rather like the amazing pumice rafts reported in the official accounts after Krakatoa.

    Submarine volcanoes: expedition sheds light on eruptions

    Might be worth keeping an eye out for press releases of the expedition findings.

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