Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in part caused by Indonesian volcano Tambora’s eruption, scientist says

Lions' Hillock, the commemorative monument of the Battle of Waterloo standing on the spot where the Prince of Orange was wounded during the fight. Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

Electrically charged volcanic ash short-circuited Earth’s atmosphere in 1815, causing global poor weather

At the Battle of Waterloo, rainy and muddy conditions helped the Allied army defeat the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Historians know. The June 1815 event changed the course of European history. Two months prior, Indonesian volcano Tambora had erupted, killing 100,000 people and plunging the Earth into a ,year without a summer’ in 1816. Now, a scientist from Imperial College London has linked the natural event in the Far East with Napoleon’s defeat in Belgium.

Dr. Matthew Genge from Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, has found that electrified volcanic ash can „short-circuit“ the electrical current of the ionosphere – the upper level of the atmosphere that is responsible for cloud formation. The Tambora eruption may have ultimately led to a pulse of cloud formation. This brought heavy rain across Europe that contributed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat.

The paper published in „Geology“ science magazine shows that eruptions can hurl ash much higher than previously thought into the atmosphere – up to 100 km above ground.

Dr. Genge said: „Previously, geologists thought that volcanic ash gets trapped in the lower atmosphere because volcanic plumes rise buoyantly. My research, however, shows that ash can be shot into the upper atmosphere by electrical forces.“

Comparisons with data from the Pinatubo eruption in 1991 showed ionosphere turbulences which might have been caused by charged ash in the ionosphere.

After the Krakatau eruption in 1883, noctilucent clouds had appeared more frequently than usual. They are rare and luminous and form in the ionosphere. They also may have been the aftermath of an electrostatic levitation up there, according to Dr Genge.

Victor Hugo in the novel „Les Miserables“ mentioned the Battle of Waterloo in the following words: „An unseasonably clouded sky sufficed to bring about the collapse of a World.“

Imperial College London

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