Of volcanoes, dry fog, and sun as sackcloth

The current chaos over the low-volume eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano may have interesting parallels to both the past and the future. First, the past.

Profound effects of eight-month eruption in 1783 caused chaos from US to Egypt, say experts

“Just over 200 years ago an Icelandic volcano erupted with catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transport across the northern hemisphere – and helped trigger the French revolution. The Laki volcanic fissure in southern Iceland erupted over an eight-month period from 8 June 1783 to February 1784, spewing lava and poisonous gases that devastated the island’s agriculture, killing much of the livestock. It is estimated that perhaps a quarter of Iceland’s population died through the ensuing famine. Then, as now, there were more wide-ranging impacts. In Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, in North America and even Egypt, the Laki eruption had its consequences, as the haze of dust and sulphur particles thrown up by the volcano was carried over much of the northern hemisphere. Ships moored up in many ports, effectively fogbound.

Crops were affected as the fall-out from the continuing eruption coincided with an abnormally hot summer. A clergyman, the Rev Sir John Cullum, wrote to the Royal Society that barley crops “became brown and withered … as did the leaves of the oats; the rye had the appearance of being mildewed”. Dr John Murray said: “Volcanic eruptions can have significant effects on weather patterns for from two to four years, which in turn have social and economic consequences. We shouldn’t discount their possible political impacts.”

The current eruption in Iceland that began March 21, 2010 began similarly to the one in 1783 that caused so much death and devastation. The initial eruption that had begun a few weeks ago was only rated a 1 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index [VEI.] In comparison, Mt. St. Helens was a 4 and Mt. Pinatubo in 1997 was a 6 but the cumulative effect is equally disruptive worldwide than a more violent eruption, as the world is discovering anew this week. We are more interconnected today than ever before. The ash plume has accumulated in size and mass and height and is traveling east over Europe. It has halted Europe’s air travel, medical evacuations, and army flights. It has rained a large-scale release of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere that also poses a potential health risk. “The eruption was a single act of nature, but it stopped the world in countless ways.” Drudge’s headline for a while was “The day the earth stood still.”

The effects to health of the 1783 Iceland Laki eruption was discussed in a paper by John Grattan, of The University of Wales, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences. Grattan wrote: “The environmental impact of this event appears to have been severe, with reports of an acid dry fog in many parts of Europe, and often of associated damage to vegetation. It is argued that the meteorological conditions that led to this event are precisely the same as those which are associated with modern-day air pollution episodes in European conurbations, and the potential addition of millions of tonnes of volcanic gaseous material to the air over already polluted cities poses a rare, but in health terms potentially major, risk.” (Above, a sackcloth hairshirt) Sackcloth is a very coarse, rough fabric woven from flax or hemp.

More on the ‘dry fog’ in a moment.

As in 1783, the health risks from sulphur dioxide and silica fallout remains just as great as it was then. FoxNews reported yesterday, “Doctor: Volcanic Dust Cloud Increases Risk of Death” “The World Health Organization issued a warning to Europeans Friday to stay indoors as ash from Iceland’s volcano starts settling. … concern is growing about the potentially deadly health effects the ash could have on people living in the region. The enormous dust cloud, hovering 20,000 feet over much of northern Europe, may contain large amounts of silica, a natural component of rock that comes with these types of volcanic explosions. “Inhaling silica into your respiratory system can lead to a deadly, chronic lung disease called silicosis that can damage the lungs and heart,” Alvarez said. “It also increases the potential of developing lung cancer.”

How long will this eruption last? CNN reports “Weather experts predicted Friday that a volcanic ash causing chaos to air traffic across Europe would affect the region well into the weekend and possibly beyond as the dust cloud continued to spread. Scientists said it was too soon to predict when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland would cease spewing ash, raising the prospect of thousands more grounded flights in coming days. The volcano’s last major eruption in 1821 lasted two years.”

The 1783 eruption was rated a 6 on the VEI and lasted 8 months. We are already seeing how even this low-intensity eruption has disrupted the world. How might the Icelandic volcano figure in prophecy?

In Revelation 6:12 we read, “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;”. The sentence is constructed in a way that seems causal. Earthquake occurs, and within the same sentence with no period, the sun turns sackcloth and the moon turns red. Can an earthquake cause this? Yes, if it sparks a volcano eruption.

(Left, Malgorzata Zurakowska’s artistic rendition of Apocalypse, Sun as Sackcloth of Hair). Volcanic ash has the same effect on the sun as described in the Revelation verse. The Byzantine historian Procopius recorded of 536, in his report on the wars with the Vandals, “during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness…and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” The event is thought to have been caused by an extensive atmospheric dust veil, possibly resulting from a large volcanic eruption in the tropics.”

Gilbert White recorded his perceptions of the event at Selborne: “The sun, at noon, looked as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust- coloured ferruginous light on the ground, and floors of rooms; but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at rising and setting.” Others have variously called the dry fog effect on the sun as of a heavy veil, a mist, and as sackcloth. The supremely vivid sunsets also have their effect on the moon, which turns to red.

The Revelation verse states that there will be an earthquake, and it is not unlikely that a massive earthquake may trigger a volcanic eruption that in turn spews enough ash into the stratosphere that will cause the sun to turn to sackcloth and the moon to turn to red. The Deseret News asked that very question today, in noticing that the Yellowstone Supervolcano area has been especially active. Utah earthquakes leading up to volcanic action? “Thursday evening’s quake on the Utah/Wyoming border is number 27 so far this year in Utah. That one near Randolph was one of the strongest in the state in 75 years, according to seismic station reports, the U.S. Geological Survey and professional quake watchers. If the current pace continues, more than 90 significant earthquakes will occur by the end of the year. Between April of last year and now, there were 80 large earthquakes, according to the USGS…”

Asked if “earthquakes trigger volcanic eruptions?” the USGS says that they can and they may, and in fact, they have. “Volcano eruptions have occurred shortly after earthquakes and they may be linked, but scientists are still debating the topic. Notably, an Andean volcano (Cordon Caulle) began erupting 2 days after the magnitude 9.5 1960 Chile earthquake. Eruptions of mud volcanoes have occurred in the Andaman Islands following the recent magnitude 9.0 megathrust earthquake.”

Finally, we know that the end times prophecies state that there will be plagues. In the historical past, dry fogs have been linked to plague. “Famine and disease pandemics ensued, with the epidemics in all cases reaching the Mediterranean area within 1 to 5 years after the eruptions. In at least five cases, the contagion responsible for the mass mortality was probably plague.” The recent earthquake in China has already sparked an alert for plague:

Chinese quake spurs plague watch
“Rescuers of victims of earthquakes in a Tibetan area of western China should be on alert for potential cases of pneumonic plague, state media reported Friday. Earthquakes in the remote northwestern mountain town of Jiegu have left at least 1,144 people dead, Xinhua said of the confirmed death toll Friday evening. Wednesday’s magnitude-6.9 quake may have awoken marmots from their winter hibernation, China Daily said. The mammals can spread pneumonic plague, which is curable if treated early with antibiotics.”

What does all this add up to? Look and see:

The UK Daily Mail published this graphic today: “The dramatic ash plume engulfing Britain and ‘nightmarish face’ seen from above”. I find it interesting that staid reporters and science-oriented astronauts in flight take the time to notice and make remark on the hellish face of the volcano as it appears to us from above.

The Revelation’s Sixth Seal promises a sun as sackcloth and a blood red moon and an earthquake. We are seeing perhaps the precursor to a longer-term fulfillment of the verse with the current ash plume and ensuing effects. We know what happened in history. The year 536 dry fog, the 1783 dry fog, and the Year Without a Summer of 1816 volcanic dry fog all resulted in dimmed sun, plagues, famines, blood red moons, cold, crop failures; in sum, all the things the bible promises will occur in the end time and in the Tribulation. Will Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption be a part of this promised cycle? Only God knows for sure, but in reading the historical fact of the documented effects of such eruptions in the past, it may indeed be so.