Amidst the rising anxiety over climate change including the impact on food security, a new study has highlighted that there are lessons to be learned from history in addressing such challenges. It was referring to an extreme climate change event that took place two centuries ago from a volcanic eruption and how it was tackled.

In 1816, long volcanic winter befell on many continents in the aftermath of the largest volcanic eruption of Indonesia's Mount Tambora in 1815.

The research was conducted by scientists at the University of Massachusetts and other institutions.

The study said that the early 19th-century volcanic event and the climate change it induced is loaded with many lessons for the current generation in handling unanticipated events like climate change that may affect many communities.

They studied the volcanic winter's impact on New England especially in the Gulf of Maine and the human food systems associated with it. The results showed how effects of climate change are intertwined with human-natural systems across the globe.

Regarding New England, the study noted that the region had a bevy of hard times after the Tambora eruption, as climate cooling caused large-scale deaths of livestock, mortality of staple fish, and the emergence of new fishing patterns while poverty stalked many lands.

The findings have been published in the journal Science Advances.

Impact On Fisheries

Explaining the study's significance, main author Karen Alexander, who is a research fellow in environmental conservation, said the study pursued a forensic examination-like approach.

"We knew that Tambora's extreme cold had afflicted New England, Europe, China and other places for as long as 17 months. But no one we knew of had investigated coastal ecosystems and fisheries. So, we looked for evidence close to home," the author said.

Using Complex Adaptive Systems, they gathered data to identify processes that brought out known outcomes such as changes in temperature and its effect on coastal areas and fisheries.

Observing the impact on fishing patterns, which followed the long winter caused by the mighty volcanic eruption leading to huge fluctuations in temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, the study said many fish species were harmed while a few others thrived.

Alewives To Mackerel

The worst hit was the staple fish "alewives", the researchers found.

The "utility fish" was an important component of commercial exports and was used as chicken feed and human food in winter.

The winter of 1816 was so severe that it took a heavy toll of alewives and economically devastated the people who were depending on it as catch decreased.

That is how 1816 became a "year without a summer" and doubled up as the "mackerel year" for fisheries.

The shift came about as people who failed to catch enough alewives moved to Mackerel, which was abundant and unaffected by the freezing winter.

Key To Survival

The study subtly submits that food security is a priority issue even in the current climate change discourse which is strewn with incidents of drought, floods, and typhoons among others.

Alexander said there is a lot to learn from the past in knowing how people tackled unanticipated challenges.

"Understanding how adaptive responses to extreme events can trigger unintended consequences may advance long-term planning for resilience in an uncertain future," the report stated.

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