Researchers bet their bottom dollar on a combination of polar ice cores, tree-rings, geochemistry, and a medieval chronicle little-known in the West to solve one of vulcanology’s most enduring mysteries: which peak blew its top in the mid-13th century, causing a catastrophic eruption that ranks as one of the biggest in the recorded history? As with any investigation, the team had to rule out other suspects as it followed a trail of clues - and even read palms, or at least palm leaves, ultimately finding the culprit of the massive 1257 AD eruption, which the researchers say is Samalas volcano on Lombok Island in Indonesia.
For decades, scientists have been searching for the volcano responsible for the largest spike in sulfate deposits in the last 7,000 years, which were revealed in the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The spike indicated a massive eruption around 1257 that may have sent up to eight times more sulfate into the stratosphere than the 1883 eruption of Karaktau, often held up as an archetype of volcanoes behaving badly. Researchers say the 1257 mystery spew is comparable in scope to a second-century AD eruption in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand, known as the most intense historic volcanic event. Multitude of futile attempts for a few decades compelled the researchers to write the project off as “unsolved”. Some thirty years later, one of the researchers’ tips came from Babad Lombok, a 13th century historical record in Old Javanese, written on palm leaves, the chronicle referencing a massive eruption of Samalas that created an enormous caldera.The current research zeroed in on Samalas, part of the Mount Rinjani volcanic complex.
The team was able to accumulate a sizable amount of incriminating evidence, including pyroclastic deposits from the eruption more than 100 feet thick found more than 15 miles from the ruins of the volcano. The range of deposits and the volume suggest that the Samalas eruption exceeded that of the Tambora event in 1815. The team sampled carbonized tree trunks and branches in the Samalas deposit zone and used radiocarbon dating to confirm a mid 13th-century eruption. Reviewing wind patterns, researchers were even able to narrow the timeframe for the eruption. The distribution, to the west, of volcanic ash and other ejecta from Samalas suggest that the dry season’s easterly trade winds were prevalent, putting the eruption window between May and October of 1257.
The author of the passage alludes to the discovery made in Greenland and Antarctica in order to