Climate response to the Samalas volcanic eruption in 1257 revealed by proxy records

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
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The eruption of Samalas in Indonesia in 1257 ranks among the largest sulfur-rich eruptions of the Common Era with sulfur deposition in ice cores reaching twice the volume of the Tambora eruption in 1815. Sedimentological analyses of deposits confirm the exceptional size of the event, which had both an eruption magnitude and a volcanic explosivity index of 7. During the Samalas eruption, more than 40km3 of dense magma was expelled and the eruption column is estimated to have reached altitudes of 43km. However, the climatic response to the Samalas event is debated since climate model simulations generally predict a stronger and more prolonged surface air cooling of Northern Hemisphere summers than inferred from tree-ring-based temperature reconstructions. Here, we draw on historical archives, ice-core data and tree-ring records to reconstruct the spatial and temporal climate response to the Samalas eruption. We find that 1258 and 1259 experienced some of the coldest Northern Hemisphere summers of the past millennium. However, cooling across the Northern Hemisphere was spatially heterogeneous. Western Europe, Siberia and Japan experienced strong cooling, coinciding with warmer-than-average conditions over Alaska and northern Canada. We suggest that in North America, volcanic radiative forcing was modulated by a positive phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. Contemporary records attest to severe famines in England and Japan, but these began prior to the eruption. We conclude that the Samalas eruption aggravated existing crises, but did not trigger the famines.

At a glance


  1. Spatial extent of weather and optical anomalies observed in Europe in 1258.
    Figure 1: Spatial extent of weather and optical anomalies observed in Europe in 1258.

    All sources are listed in Supplementary Table 1.

  2. Grape harvest dates in France (1258-2006).
    Figure 2: Grape harvest dates in France (1258–2006).

    a, Continuous records of days of year (DOY) on which GHDs occurred for Ile-de-France (purple), Alsace (orange) and Burgundy (green) between 1350 and 2006. Data are complemented by newly discovered sources for the years 1258, 1279 and 1294. The green triangle indicates the estimated 1258 GHD in Burgundy (Supplementary Text 3). The most delayed grape harvest of the last 800 years occurred in 1258. See Supplementary Table 1 for a list of all sources. b, GHDs for Ile-de-France, Alsace, and Burgundy are significantly correlated with April–September mean air temperatures of the Paris-Montsouris, Strasbourg and Dijon meteorological stations.

  3. Original contemporary manuscript and illustration describing the dust veil and climate anomalies observed in 1258.
    Figure 3: Original contemporary manuscript and illustration describing the dust veil and climate anomalies observed in 1258.

    a, The text in Latin comes from the Annals of Speyer and says: ‘The same year, wine, wheat and other fruits were greatly altered and this year was also commonly referred to as munkeliar’. The use of the Middle High German expression ‘munkeliar’, rather than its Latin equivalent (annus obscuritatis or annus caliginis), suggests that the exceptional persistence and intensity of insolation dimming was not only omnipresent but unusual enough for commoners to give it a proper name (source: Speyrer Kopialbuch. Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe, GLA 67, Nr. 448, fol. 39v). b, Contemporary illustration of wine harvesting as illustrated in the Martyrology of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey (source: National Library of France, Paris, Ms lat. 12834, fol. 69v).

  4. Tree-ring reconstructions of NH extratropical land (40[deg]-90[deg][thinsp]N) summer temperature anomalies since AD 1000.
    Figure 4: Tree-ring reconstructions of NH extratropical land (40°–90°N) summer temperature anomalies since AD 1000.

    a, Summer (JJA) temperature anomalies following the 1257 Samalas eruption in 1258 and 1259 (blue) as compared with cumulative distribution functions for all major volcanic eruptions (that is, 1109, 1453, 1601, 1641, 1695, 1783, 1809, 1816, 1835, 1884 and 1912; black) and for all non-volcanic years (red) since AD 1000. b, The same as in a, but for groups of two consecutive years following major eruptions. c, Spatial extent of the JJA temperature anomalies induced by the Samalas (cooling shown for 1258 and 1259), unknown (1453), Huaynaputina (1601) and Tambora (1816) eruptions. For details see Methods.


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Author information


  1., Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Berne, Baltzerstrasse 1+3, CH-3012 Berne, Switzerland

    • Sébastien Guillet,
    • Markus Stoffel &
    • Olga V. Churakova (Sidorova)
  2. Geolab, UMR 6042 CNRS, Université Blaise Pascal, 4 rue Ledru, F-63057 Clermont-Ferrand, France

    • Christophe Corona
  3. Climatic Change and Climate Impacts, Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, 66 Boulevard Carl Vogt, CH-1205 Geneva, Switzerland

    • Markus Stoffel &
    • Martin Beniston
  4. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Geneva, rue des Maraîchers 13, CH-1205 Geneva, Switzerland

    • Markus Stoffel
  5. Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat: Expérimentations et approches numériques, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 4 place Jussieu, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France

    • Myriam Khodri
  6. Laboratoire de Géographie Physique, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 1 place Aristide Briand, 92195 Meudon, France

    • Franck Lavigne
  7. NCAS-Climate, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6BB, UK

    • Pablo Ortega
  8. Irstea, UR ETNA/Université Grenoble-Alpes, 2 rue de la Papeterie, F-38402 Saint Martin d’Hères, France

    • Nicolas Eckert &
    • Pascal Dkengne Sielenou
  9. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (CEA-CNRS-UVSQ UMR8212, Institut Pierre Simon Laplace, Université Paris Saclay), L’Orme des Merisiers, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Valérie Daux &
    • Valérie Masson-Delmotte
  10. V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forest, 660036 Krasnoyarsk, Akademgorodok, Russian Federation

    • Olga V. Churakova (Sidorova)
  11. Siberian Federal University, RU-660041 Krasnoyarsk, Russia

    • Olga V. Churakova (Sidorova) &
    • Vladimir S. Myglan
  12. Department of Environmental Science, William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey 07470, USA

    • Nicole Davi
  13. Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, University of Arizona, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Nicole Davi
  14. CCJ, UMR 7299 CNRS, Maison méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’homme 5 rue du château de l’horloge, 13094 Aix-en-Provence cedex, France

    • Jean-Louis Edouard
  15. Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China

    • Yong Zhang
  16. Center for Excellence & Innovation in Tibetan Plateau Earth System Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China

    • Yong Zhang
  17. Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond Street, London, Ontario N6A 5C2, Canada

    • Brian H. Luckman
  18. Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, IRD, Collège de France, CEREGE, ECCOREV, F-13545 Aix-en-Provence, France

    • Joël Guiot
  19. Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EN, UK

    • Clive Oppenheimer


S.G., C.C., M.S. and F.L. designed the research. S.G. investigated historical archives and translated the narrative sources from Latin to English. N.E. and P.D.S. computed return periods from GHD series provided by V.D., S.G. and C.C. produced the NH reconstructions with input from N.E. and J.G. for statistical analyses. O.V.C., N.D., J.-L.E., Y.Z., V.S.M., P.O. and V.M.-D. provided data for the elaboration of the proxy network. S.G., C.C., M.S. and C.O. wrote the paper with input from P.O., V.M.-D., B.H.L., O.V.C. and M.K. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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