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Journal Article


Rössler O, Brönnimann S. Sci. Total Environ. 2018; 627: 1218-1227.


Institute of Geography, Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Hallerstrasse 12, 3012 Bern, Switzerland.


(Copyright © 2018, Elsevier Publishing)






The Tambora volcano erupted in April 1815 caused 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 within an extreme climate.

Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Language: en


analogue method; historical flood; hydro-climate reconstruction; hydrological modelling; weather extreme


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