Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-2023-2474
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-2023-2474
03 Nov 2023
 | 03 Nov 2023

"More poison than words can describe": What did people die of after the 1783 Laki eruption?

Claudia Elisabeth Wieners and Guðmundur Hálfdanarson

Abstract. The 1783 Laki eruption in Iceland was followed by an almost 20 % population loss, traditionally attributed to famine (caused by fluorine poisoning of livestock) and contagious diseases. From the 1970s, hypotheses were formed that fluorine poisoning might have contributed to human mortality in Iceland, and air pollution might have caused excess deaths both in Iceland and Europe. Using historical documents including parish registries, we find that regional and temporal patterns in Icelandic excess mortality can be satisfactorily explained by hunger and disease, when other factors such as the availability of secondary food sources (fishing, food aid) are taken into account. In contrast, the timing and estimated concentrations of air pollution do not match observed excess mortality, and observed symptoms and estimated human fluorine uptake do not suggest large-scale fluorosis in humans. We therefore conclude that the evidence for significant direct contributions from pollution to human mortality is weak.

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Claudia Elisabeth Wieners and Guðmundur Hálfdanarson

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2474', Jón Kristinn Einarsson, 27 Dec 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Claudia Wieners, 24 Mar 2024
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2474', Niklaus Emanuel Bartlome, 30 Jan 2024
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC2', Claudia Wieners, 24 Mar 2024
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2474', Anonymous Referee #3, 27 Feb 2024
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC3', Claudia Wieners, 24 Mar 2024
Claudia Elisabeth Wieners and Guðmundur Hálfdanarson

Data sets

Parish and County level demographic data from Iceland during the Lakagígar eruption 1783 Claudia Wieners and Guðmundur Hálfdanarson https://dataverse.nl/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.34894/9YT5BK

Claudia Elisabeth Wieners and Guðmundur Hálfdanarson

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Short summary
The 1783 Laki eruption in Iceland was followed by an almost 20 % population loss, which was thought to be due to famine caused by livestock loss. From 1970, it was suggested 1) that fluorine poisoning may have contributed to the mortality in Iceland, and that 2) air pollution might have caused excess deaths both in Iceland and Europe. Reviewing contemporary Icelandic demographic data, air pollution simulations and medical records on fluorosis, we show that evidence for both hypotheses is weak.