Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Tambora Effect

Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo caused in part by Indonesian volcanic eruption

So said an article published in ScienceDaily on 22 August 2018. The next day, BBC Radio 4's Inside Science interviewed the author (well, I doubt if Dr Genge had much to do with it in that format but it was regurgitated more-or-less [probably totally, but I haven't checked] verbatim from an article that appeared on the Imperial College London site on the same day). 

Hmmmph? I wondered. Wasn't all this Year Without a Summer stuff old hat? Hasn't it been debunked, as far as Waterloo is concerned?  Surely, the Belgian rainstorm couldn't have been caused by a volcano that happened just two  months earlier? But have a look at that article, particularly where it says
"Previously, geologists thought that volcanic ash gets trapped in the lower atmosphere, because volcanic plumes rise buoyantly. {HD – which accounts for the lack of  a Northern Hemisphere summer in 1816, but doesn't explain a freak rainstorm in Belgium so soon after the eruption.}  My research, however, shows that ash can be shot into the upper atmosphere by electrical forces."
So this was The Tambora Effect, involving the delightfully named electrostatic levitation.
The paper shows that eruptions can hurl ash much higher than previously thought into the atmosphere -- up to 100 kilometres above ground.
And once in the ionosphere (troposphere schmoposphere, this is tens of miles higher than the volcanic ash was originally supposed to get) the disruption caused by the charged volcanic dust particles , as Dr Genge said in that interview "...can go round the planet in 100 seconds." This YouTube video published by Imperial College London says more.

But enough of volcanoes. I'l leave you with a pretty picture.

Tambora Caldera
Image and and English description: Mount Tambora Volcano, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, NASA Earth Observatory. 2nd version: Transferred from de.wikipedia to Commons.; originally from https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/SearchPhotos/photo.pl?mission=ISS020&roll=E&frame=06563

But as it happens, those words (tambora effect, not electrostatic levitation) have a different significance for me (and especially for practising guitarists – which I haven't been for over thirty years).  The most-widely accepted term, says Wikipedia, is the Tambour effect:
Tambour (also called tambortamboro or tambora, written in music as tamb.), is a technique in Flamenco guitar and classical guitar that emulates the sound of a heartbeat. The player uses a flat part of the hand, usually the side of the outstretched right thumb, or also the edge of the palm below the little finger, and sounds the strings by striking them rapidly just inside the bridge of the guitar. 
I first met it in its Hispanic form, though, on the sleeve notes of a Paco Peña album...
I had been a fan since a concert I went to in Guildford, where my big sister was a student at the University of Surrey. That university was twinned in some way with Battersea Tech, who ran a free minibus service between Battersea and Guildford.

Disguised as a student, in my brother's VI form scarf (though the shortness of my hair was probably a giveaway) I bummed a lift to use the argot of the time. [I've been expecting a tap on the shoulder for the last 50 years, but I reckon it's now safe to admit this peccadillo.]
...I read in the late '60s. He used it to marvellous instrumental effect, and in my troubadour days I borrowed it for a setting of Moondog (based on [i.e. lifted from] a version sung by Terry Cox, drummer with Pentangle, with accompaniment on bongos.)
Now I come to think of it, though, the two may be related. According to Wikipedia's article on Tambora Culture:
The language of the culture was wiped out. The language appears to have been an isolate, the last survivor of the pre-Austronesian languages of central Indonesia.
But IF the name of the volcano was borrowed from a Romance language (as certainly looks possible), it could refer to the drum-like sound of the seismological rumblings – not the "heartbeat" mentioned in the article on the "technique in Flamenco guitar and classical guitar that emulates the sound of a heartbeat", but a less life-affirming sort of beat.

But the blackberries aren't going to pick themselves...


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