Today is the 125th anniversary of the catastrophic eruption of the Krakatoa volcano.
Last week we discussed Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, certainly the best available book of the causes, context, events and consequences of the devastating eruption. In the epilogue to his work, Winchester describes climbing to the summit of Anak Krakatoa – the “son of Krakatoa” – rapidly growing successor to the agent of “the day the world exploded”:
“The sky widened farther and farther; the sea below became a dazzling, gleaming sheet of steel; the temperature rose in an almost terrifying way that seemed to have no relation to the tropical sun. After thirty wearying minutes more, we stepped over a rock edged with a crust of yellow-stained sulfur crystals, and across the teeth of a ridge – below, spread ahead like some infernal dish of hell was the crater itself.
“The white smoke had by now enveloped us: It was hot water vapor, mixed with the curiously attractive smell of sulfur dioxide and dust. The surface I could see ahead was a fragile-looking crust, newly baked and broken in places, with plopping gobbets of hot mud spurting into the air and hissing, machinelike jets of gas roaring and and whistling up into the cloud. From afar the volcano had appeared quiet; but up here, on the very lip of its mouth, at the working end of the heir apparent to the greatest volcano the modern world has experienced, it seemed anything but.
“The mechanics of the making of the world were all in evidence, just a few feet ahead of where I stood. All this talk of subduction zones, of the collision between two of the world’s immense tectonic plates, of the unfolding of the ring of fire – it all came down to this. Here, in this hot, crystalline, yellow-gray, wheezing, whistling, mud-boiling cauldron, was where the consequences of subduction were being played out.
“The power of the process was all too apparent here also, in the strangely compelling symphony of grinding and snortings and sulfurous snarlings, in all the rushings of yellow and green gases, and in the snapping and straining of the rocks and crystals and crusts. This was a place that was filled with nameless and unfathomable activities, and it had a terrible, fascinating menace. It was a place that was all too evidently primed, ready at an instant to explode again . . .
[For additional information on volcanoes, consider the text-only version of Robert I. Tilling’s brochure Volcanoes at the US Geological Survey website; the USGS Current Alerts for US Volcanoes; and the USGS World Map of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Impact Craters, and Plate Tectonics.]