Krakatoa Volcano: How the 1883 Eruption Changed the World

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In May 1883, the captain of the German battleship Elizabeth observed that a cloud of dust and ash, about 2 km high, rose above the desolate mountain islands of the Sunda Pass between the islands of Sumatra and Java in Indonesia. A later report said the ashes were dense enough to darken the sun. According to another report a few months later, other ships reported that uncanny piles of rubble came from an Indonesian island named Krakatau, which probably became famous as Krakatoa, due to a typography mistake made by a news distributor.

Finally, in 1883, all hell descended as a massive volcanic eruption that devastated Krakatoa. It created a stream of heavy ash, pumice, and lava, causing two-thirds of the island to collapse into the sea. With the explosion, huge tsunamis plunged hundreds of coastal towns and villages and killed about 36,000 people. Krakatoa, which is in the 6th category according to the Volcano Eruption Index, was one of the largest volcano eruptions recorded in the last 760 thousand years of natural history.

Krakatoa was not just because of its terrifying power and influence. It was also one of the most well-known volcanoes ever since it was the first true volcano eruption that took place at a time when people had scientific tools to measure the impact of the eruption, along with communication tools such as telegraph lines and printed newspapers, through which they could communicate what was happening to others. The legend grew and Krakatoa eventually became the true King Kong of the volcanoes, even in the historical thriller East Java Krakatoa, which starred in 1968 with the acting of Maximillian Schell, Diane Baker, and Brian Keith, and also written by Simon Winchester in 2003. Krakatoa became the subject of his book The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883.

How strong was the explosion?

The Krakatoa explosion was heard in an area covering just over ten percent of the earth’s surface, producing one of the most powerful sounds heard in modern history. It was similar to the sound of cannon fire happening somewhere far away, heard by people living on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, 4600 km from the explosion point. It led to sudden leaps in the indicators of scientific instruments in countries such as Great Britain and America.

During the Krakatoa eruption, a mass of 21 cubic kilometers of fragmented rock was scattered into the air. The ash clouds from the explosion reached a height of 80 km. And it covered an area of ​​777 thousand kilometers, almost reaching the threshold of the world’s mesosphere.

Krakatoa will darken the entire city, according to an article published two weeks after the explosion. And the coal-black ash clouds vomited, which would darken the sparkling tropical sky.

According to UOAY, the ashes gradually covered the planet with a haze that would drift and cause halos around the Moon and the Sun.

Also, these ashes filtered enough solar radiation to cause global temperatures to be 0.9 degrees lower, even a year after the explosion occurred.

Don Thomas explains in an e-mail that the explosion of 1883 was powerful for various reasons. Thomas explains it as a type of eruption in which the magma accumulation beneath the volcano erupts enough lava to cause it to collapse on itself.

The magma reservoir will be active enough for many years to regularly erupt fairly large lava deposits.

However, if an injection of magma from deeper into the crust begins to rise beneath the magma accumulation, the system becomes unstable. An example is that the warmer, less dense basaltic magma in the deeper strata sits beneath the higher, colder, and denser magma.

Massive tsunamis, as horrible as the eruption itself, were riskier than the eruption itself. Some of the waves reached the other side of the Pacific, Hawaii, and even South America, but the Indonesian archipelago was the most destructive. The waves went up to 41 meters. It razed the coastal cities, towns, and villages of the Sumatra and Java Islands.

As many as 2,000 Chinese immigrants died in the area now known as Jakarta. They said that the city of Serang was completely submerged under the waves and almost all of its population died. In an earlier time, these horrors could surely have remained local tragedies. However, thanks to the newspaper reports, people in the USA were shocked by the stories written and drawn about the explosion.

“Some of the previous events were certainly much larger than the event in 1883. However, the level of technology and communication at that time was very low. There are little or no records of these events, ”says Thomas. “We have only begun to determine when these events occur with our advanced technology in modern times. Ice cores recorded these natural phenomena – changes in the constituents of the products the volcano erupted – over hundreds of years. A population living near the places where these major events took place will be affected and disappear from the earth. “

Although the eruption destroyed much of the volcano in its original form, it did not completely eradicate it.

43 years after the eruption, part of the volcano emerged as a new island from the sea. Anak Krakatoa exploded 89 years after its appearance in December 2018. According to the BBC, this explosion will cause the death of more than 400 people. And he created a water wave that would take 47,000 people out of their homes. According to Ravindra Jayaratne, Anak Krakatoa Volcano will erupt again one day. And it will create tsunamis that will lead to more deaths.

Ravindra Jayaratne argues that various measures must be taken to prepare for any future explosion.

Among them;

  • Establishing an early warning system that can detect a sudden increase in water level.
  • Strive to raise awareness among local people who could be harmed by the blast.
  • And there is help to prepare them.

Although the risk to the Anak Krakatoa volcano is quite scary, it is likely to occur.

Thomas: “I don’t expect anyone to say that a similarly large explosion will not occur on Anak Krakatoa. However, this possibility is extremely unlikely, ”he says. “No matter where you look, the original magma reservoir is gone”.

Before we can expect a repetition of the 1883 eruption, a new accumulation of magma must be revived there. Fortunately, such events happen very rarely. And for them to happen, very extraordinary conditions must arise. Much may have changed in the nearly a century and a half since the Krakatoa explosion. But there is no guarantee that advanced civilizations are prepared for a similar disaster.

“This is a difficult question to answer with certainty. Because the answer will depend on the magnitude of the event, the type, and duration of the explosion, and its location on the planet. explains Thomas.

“Thomas stated that it could have a catastrophic effect on our world’s ability to feed its current population by bringing about a sudden climate change similar to the Little Ice Age. The Skaftafell explosion in Iceland in 1783 caused a significant climatic change in the northern hemisphere. (Not as big an explosion as Krakatau. But it lasted for months and pumped large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere). “The explosion resulted in a famine in Iceland that killed 25% of the population. Also, most of the livestock raised died due to the gases released into the atmosphere from the explosion. “

“Some claim that one of the post-explosion effects was the significant decrease in the temperature of the air with the increase in summer rains that triggered the French Revolution in Europe, causing a huge drop in wheat yield. The global population today is almost ten times that of 1783. I leave the calculation to you. “

“It is possible to better protect the settled population living around a volcano. But dealing with global effects is very difficult. Fortunately, these events happen very rarely and rarely, ”adds Thomas.


Krakatoa was only the second major explosion in Indonesia in the 1800s. The Tambora Volcano eruption in 1816 was very violent. Ten thousand people who lived on the island of Sumbawa died at the first moment of the explosion. The explosion caused a total of 90 thousand people to die.