48:17 | Earth and environment

The Killer Cloud

The History Channel

In June 1783, on the Volcanic island of Iceland, a 17-milewide split appeared in the ground, triggering a disaster of gigantic proportions. Within one week more lava would pour onto the earths surface than from any other eruption in recorded history, instantly smothering all life in its path. The real problem however, was the deadly cloud of volcanic gases that had begun to accumulate; over eight months, more that 122 million tons of sulphur dioxide would spew out of the massive fissure, bringing death to hundreds of thousands of people across Europe. The Killer cloud wiped out more than a quarter of Iceland's population and three quarters of it's life stock, before it drifted across the North Atlantic to Britain, bringing prolonged devastation and suffering. Europe was smothered by a sulphurous, dry smog and in England, an uncommon gloom descended. The bizarre blue fog hovered for weeks. Crops withered, leaves were bleached and vegetation died. Millions of people were struck down with severe and often fatal bronchitis and asthma, while others suffered blinding headaches and partial loss of sight. The fallout was catastrophic and long lasting. Water and food supplies became contaminated. The toxic gases altered weather patterns, causing massive crop failure and the greatest famine in Iceland's history. Across Europe, death rates soared. That summer was the hottest ever recorded, whilst the following winter was the coldest. No other eruption before or since has caused such dramatic climate changes. The testimonies of those that lived and died during this massive natural disaster survives, in the form of diaries, letters and eye witness accounts., that offer us a unique insite into its effects on contemporary life.

Save to playlist