The effect of the Tambora eruption on Swiss flood generation in 1816/1817

Rössler, Ole Kristen; Brönnimann, Stefan (2018). The effect of the Tambora eruption on Swiss flood generation in 1816/1817. Science of the total environment, 627, pp. 1218-1227. Elsevier 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.01.254

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The Tambora volcano erupted in April 1815ccaused many direct and indirect impacts on the climate system, as well as ecosystems and societies around the world. In Switzerland, the eruption contributed to the 1816 “Year Without a Summer”, which is considered to be a key factor in generating the highest flooding ever documented of the Lake Constance (7th July 1817) and the flood of the Rhine in Basel. Snow was reported to remain during the summer of 1816, which laid the basis for a massive snow accumulation in the spring of 1817. The meltwater together with a triggering event led to the reported flooding. We aim to create a hydro-meteorological reconstruction of the 1816/1817 period in Switzerland to verify and quantify the historical sources and place them into present-day context. We used an analogue method that was based on historical measurements to generate temperature and precipitation fields for 1816/1817. These data drove a hydrological model that covers the Rhine Basin to Basel.
We reproduced the reported features of the hydroclimate, especially in regards to the temperature and snow storage. We showed that the snow storage in spring 1816 and 1817 was substantial and attained the magnitude of a recent extreme, snow-rich winter (1999). However, simulations suggest that the snowfall alone in the spring of 1817, rather than the enduring snow from 1815/1816, led to the meltwater produced from the snow pack that contributed to the flooding in Lake Constance and Basel. These events were strongly underestimated, as the triggering rainfall event was reconstructed too weak. Artificial scenarios reveal that a precipitation amount with a magnitude higher than the largest recent flood (2005) was necessary to generate the documented flood levels. We conclude that these Tambora-following flood events were a product of an adverse combination of extreme weather with an extreme climate.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Climatology
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Hydrology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Rössler, Ole Kristen and Brönnimann, Stefan


500 Science
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 940 History of Europe






[31] Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR) ; [42] Schweizerischer Nationalfonds






Ole Kristen Rössler

Date Deposited:

03 May 2018 10:22

Last Modified:

18 May 2020 11:41

Publisher DOI:





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