All about Killer Clouds

A “killer cloud,” swept over the British Isles in the spring of 1783. This huge natural disaster caused a mass of devastation yet appears to have been forgotten about in British history. Not so for Iceland who lost up to a third of their population in this tragedy. Crops failed during this catastrophe, livestock died, leaving many to die from starvation.

Lakagigar in Iceland, otherwise known as “Laki” erupted and continued to erupt for 8 months. Iceland is known as the land of ice and fire. The island is home to around 130 volcanic mountains. The “Laki” eruption was the largest eruption of lava in 500 years. “Laki’s Killer Cloud” took the lives of around 23,000 British men, women and children in total. It is estimated that 120 million tons of sulphur dioxide and 8 million tons of fluorine gave rise to what has now become acknowledged as the “Laki haze” across Europe. It is these toxic gases that attacked people’s lungs leading many to choke to death.

Volcanoes are not alone in producing killer clouds. Pollution of the air can be caused, for example, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke; factories that release their toxic gases through chimneys straight into the atmosphere can all create “killer clouds” of smoke. These toxic gases (pollutants) are categorized as being either primary or secondary. Primary pollutants are substances directly given off from a process, such as ash from a volcanic eruption like the 1783 disaster, or the carbon monoxide gas released into the air from motor vehicle exhausts. Secondary pollutants are not given off directly. They form in the air when primary pollutants react or interact.

Londoner’s in England battled through brown “killer clouds” in December 1952. Smoke combined with fog otherwise known as smog lay across London killing 4,000 people. Again the toxic gases attacked its victim’s lungs and respiratory organs. This disaster created panic all over the world and by the 1970’s laws had to be passed to limit air pollution, therefore reducing the likelihood of these “killer clouds.” It is estimated that in India 40,000 people a year die prematurely because of smog.

“Killer clouds,” do kill, causing devastation and heartbreak throughout the world. No-where is safe from “killer clouds,” although everyone can participate in reducing the likelihood of them appearing. Scientists play a huge part within their work and we, the general public need to listen to them and do what’s best for our environment.