Journal Highlights

Researchers uncover 200-year-old sunspot drawings in Maine


When the summer of 1816 was abnormally cold, with severe frosts in June and snow in July, Reverend Jonathan Fisher did what he always did: He documented it in his journal.

Fisher, a Harvard-educated minister in the small coastal town of Blue Hill, Maine, used his own phonetic shorthand to record events and observations of the natural world for 45 years. In the summer of 1816 through 1817, Fisher wrote about the weather in understated terms: commenting on the late planting of his potato crop, detailing the smaller-than-usual harvest, and remarking through the winter that conditions went from “quite cold” to “very windy and excessively KOLD.”

In April of 1815, the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia caused a global decrease in temperatures for the following few years, and 1816 came to be known as the “year without a summer.” New England states were particularly hard hit by these temperature changes, which significantly affected agriculture production and quality of life.

But no one in North America or Europe knew exactly why temperatures had dropped or that Mount Tambora was to blame…more