Volcanic Eruptions, Climate and Society in History

SERI funded ERC Starting Grant project Climatic impact and human consequences of past volcanic eruptions (VolCOPE).

SNSF funded Ambizione project Distal socio-economic impacts of big volcanic eruptions in 1500–1900 CE Switzerland and Sweden (DEBTS).

This joint project investigates the complexity of eruption-climate-society causalities in the historical past, from the late medieval times to the modern era. The project is hosted at the Institute of History and the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern.

Large volcanic eruptions can have a substantial impact on climate and these climatic disturbances can, in turn, have severe human consequences far away from the eruption location. In order to understand these far-flung eruption-climate-society causalities better, we have to look further back in time, as our recent past has witnessed only a limited number of large eruptions.

In this interdisciplinary project, we investigate the climatic and societal effects of past volcanic eruptions, from the late medieval times to the modern era. We are collaborating closely with other research groups at the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, particularly with the Past volcanism and climate impact and the Climatology groups.

We have a special interest on the indirect climatic and societal effects, like dynamical winter climate responses, administrative reactions and grassroots coping outcomes. Moreover, we are investigating to what degree the detected societal effects can be attributed to volcanic-induced climatic disturbances, and to what degree existing socio-environmental conditions and emerging human actions explain these events. To do this, we are conducting systematic longitudinal case studies, covering multiple volcanic eruptions, and compare the climatic and societal impacts associated with different eruptions over time. The novel material for our project comes from written historical sources, whereas our collaborators provide the data captured in the ‘archives of nature’, such as in tree rings, ice layers and sediment varves.

The project will run from 2022 to 2027.

Project leader

PhD student


Krakatoa 1883 eruption
Krakatoa 1883 eruption. Source: The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena: report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society, ed. by G. J. Symons, London: 1888. Accessed via www.e-rara.ch.