Volcanoes that left their mark: El Krakatoa, in Indonesia


From there we go to the airport, to take a flight to Jakarta, capital of Java and all of Indonesia, about a thousand five hundred kilometers, perhaps three hours by plane.

I “take” a window because I know that we are going to pass over the Sonda Strait that separates the two islands and I do not want to miss the opportunity to see even from the air and at high altitude, the remains of the Krakatoa volcano, of which I have read a Russian book that tells the explosion, but also the recovery of the island called The Son of Krakatoa, which emerged after his ‘father’ exploded.

My operation keeps me alert on the last leg of the flight, but a blanket of thick clouds makes my expectations fail. I’m not going to throw in the towel yet, I’ll try from Jakarta to see if there is any excursion that brings me closer to my goal. The activation, eruption and subsequent explosion of Krakatoa was a worldwide event. His anamnesis is well documented and completed by scientists around the world. It is considered the largest volcanic explosion in historical times and is of the same type as that of Santorini.

It was more or less like this: From the 1870s there began to be frequent earthquakes in the area of ​​the Sunda Strait. In September 1880 a major eruption was unleashed on the island of Krakatoa, where there were three volcanic cones: the Rakata, about 800 meters high; the Danan, about five hundred meters; and the Perboewetan of about two hundred. The matter had ups and downs but there was always a certain activity accompanied by earthquakes and an explosion.

On May 20, 1883, the Rakata erupted violently, its explosions being heard from about a hundred and fifty kilometers away while its ashes reached more than five hundred kilometers. However, none of this alerted the population on the nearby coasts enough that they did not take any important measures to protect themselves. August 23 is when the activity of the three volcanoes reaches very high levels with a column of pyroclasts that reaches thirty kilometers. The explosions were already audible for more than a hundred kilometers and Jakarta, then called Batavia, was covered in ash.

We have received the report from the Onboard Diaries of several ships that sailed through the area (the Sunda Strait was very popular to get from the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia), and during those days, from August 23 to 28, the explosions, ashfall, falling pumice, the darkness that prevailed and electrical storms, prevented navigation in a radius of at least twenty kilometers.

And we arrived at the 27th when the volcano, or volcanoes that it is not well known how the matter was, began with enormous explosions, probably because the sea water had been able to penetrate the magmatic chamber and greatly increased the pressure of the gases.

The plume of smoke reached eighty kilometers high and the ashes covered about seven hundred thousand square kilometers, more than the extent of the Iberian Peninsula. There were up to five cataclysmic explosions, the last and largest at dawn on the 28th, which were heard more than four thousand kilometers away. Later, violent tsunamis hit the coast, claiming some thirty-eight thousand deaths, (after the Tambora explosion also in that area, the highest number of human victims due to a historic volcano).

The island of Krakatoa became a caldera six kilometers in diameter and more than two hundred meters deep, most certainly the result of the collapse of the magma chamber. However, all the rocks on the island that were volatilized in the explosions are no more, according to modern calculations, than five percent of the matter that was injected into the atmosphere. The dust cloud went around the world. It arrived in Iceland on November 30, and the solar radiation was reduced by 10% for months. It was an explosion that today we would call ultra-Plinian although it is certainly not the largest that the Earth has recorded, since there are geological traces that reveal some even larger ones.

Despite Vulcano, who the Romans made reside in volcanoes, and his violent behavior, a new volcano was formed a few decades after it was called, as I said, the Son of Krakatoa (Anak Krakatoa) and it was populated with plants, animals and other signs of life throughout the following decades. In 2018, it exploded again causing a tsunami that killed 439 people. In 2020 it has erupted again. Like father Like Son.

For my part, I have arrived at the Jakarta airport, modern and beautiful, and I will not be able to make the desired excursion from here to the Sunda Strait. It is far, about a hundred and sixty kilometers and to get to the island there are another thirty miles of navigation.

The Sunda Strait is reminiscent of adventures, Malaysian pirates, volcanic explosions and a thousand other things. I will not fly over it again and I think that reading the Russian book has made me experience the explosion of the volcano more closely than my flight between Sumatra and Java. Reading is probably what allows us to live a thousand different lives and to know better than in any other way the whole world and its history.

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