Saturday, February 2, 2008

Krakatoa Islands

Krakatoa Islands, Sunda Strait, Indonesia

Krakatoa Islands An early 19th century illustration of Krakatoa

The ‘smartest’ volcano

The very name of Krakatoa Island and the smart volcano located on it has a ‘cracking tone’ and in cracking power there is no parallel, along with the volcano the island also cracks; if they together erupt it will be an event unlike no one on earth! Krakatoa is a volcanic island in the Sunda Strait; between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. Its central occupant is the live volcano by name Krakatoa; rest of the island is mainly deserted and forested. The ancient Krakatoa was not like that it was inhabited with ’friendly’ people who were swallowed by the volcano’s lava.

Creator v/s destroyer

The Krakatoa has a unique and terrible history of continuous eruptions with devastative effects. The ‘Anak Krakatoa’ (meaning child of Krakatoa as this small island was born in an explosion of the Krakatoa Volcano in 1927!) is a small island standing nearby; along with this creation this volcano has split and sunk surrounding islands in the deep sea.

16,000 little boys!

Krakatoa Islands volcano eruptingKrakatoa Volcano Eruption

To understand the real ferocity of its eruption a comparison would be of some use. The energy released in Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption was 16,000 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima (called as the ‘little boy’). The sound it produced was the loudest ever heard on earth; that could be heard in places like Mauritius located at 1900 miles away!

Sunda Strait where Krakatoa is situated is a narrow sea between Java and Sumatra islands; it connects the Java Sea with the Indian Ocean. The Sunda Strait is an ancient and important trade route used by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English for transporting spices produced in the nearby islands, sand banks and strong tidal currents along with oil-rigs dotted here and there make it difficult to navigation.

Crab Island

There are differences of opinion regarding the origin of its name; the most popular opinion is that; the word ‘Krakatoa’ was derived from Sanskrit word ‘karkataka’ which means crab or lobster a ubiquitous being of this island.

The clash of plates

As per geologists the Krakatoa islands are located just above a subduction zone of Indo Australian and Eurasian plates. Conflicts between these continental plates make the crust of the earth weak resulting in frequent geological disasters and volcanic eruptions.

Three islands

Map of Sunda strait krakatoa islandMap of Sunda Strait

Krakatoa was initially a large land mass that got split into three islands, which were also destined to exist only up to the infamous 1883 eruption. These three islands and a tiny forested islet that were rocked belonged to the Krakatoa cluster were; Rakata Kecil (old name Lang), only a part of the island survived the eruption.

Sertung or Danan (old name Verlatan meaning deserted place) it was mostly destroyed in the 1883 eruption.

Krakatoa Island consists of the volcano and surrounding areas of about 9 km radius.

Poolsche Hoed (corrupted word for Polish Hat) was a forested little islet that stood nearby the Krakatoa. It disappeared in the 1883 eruption.

Three peaks

Along with these there are numerous rocky islets. The three volcanic cones are Rakata (the highest; height 823 meters), Danan (height 445 meters) and Perboe Watan (the smallest; height 122 meters) .

Ujung Kulon National Park

Krakatoa IslandsKrakatoa Islands

The Ujung Kulon National Park is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and it is the first one of its kind in Indonesia. This park was established in 1919 as a protected area, later Ujung Reserve (including Krakatoa and adjacent islands) was added in to it. This whole area was made a National Park 1982. From 1990 the Krakatoa is a separate Nature Reserve. This park is home to the Java Rhinoceros a much endangered species.

Pre eruption island

Map of Krakatoa Islands Map of Krakatau after 1883 eruption, showing the change in geography

Only vague records are available regarding the people and conditions of the Krakatoa prior to the 1883 eruption. In 1780 the crew of HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery while returning to native land after the death of Captain Cook anchored their ships near Krakatoa and they have described the native people as friendly. The archaic Krakatoa Island that had a land area of about 9 km radius with a volcano with a 2000 meter height in its center. The past eruptions have split it destroyed it as well as enlarged it.

Pustaka Raja or Pararaton (king book)

Written in Kawi language in Saka Year 1481 or 1600 AD (Shalivahana or Kaka is an Era used in ancient Hindu and Cambodian Buddhist Calendar; its zero date begins in the equinox of 78). This rare book (a manuscript) in Kawi language (Kawi is a mixture of literary languages of Java and Bali with words of Sanskrit, Kawi is for Kavi = poet in Sanskrit) gives the details of 416 AD eruption of Krakatoa along with the history of Singhasari and Majapahit kings who rules the Eastern Java region.

First hand report

This book (The Pustaka Raja) has 32 folios and 1126 lines written in a style where facts, fiction and fantasy get intertwined. It contains the earliest written description about the terrible explosion of Krakatoa; “A thundering sound was heard on mountain of Batuwara, a similar sound from Kapi”........................ it ends like this “water subdued but the land where Kapi stood became sea, and Java and Sumatra were divided in to two”

A sample eruption!

The 1883 eruption was the most ferocious; its preparation began months before as seismic activities of the region reached its peak. A ‘sample’ eruption was orchestrated in 20th May, 1883; exactly 3 months before the real one. By 20th steam was rising from more than 10 vents. Larger eruptions began by 11th August, by August 24th the volcano reached its paroxysmal (out burst) stage as explosions were taking place in every ten minutes and its sound could be heard as far as Australia and the ash-cloud reached 27 km in height. The 1883 eruption ejected a total mass of rock, ash and pumice (solidified volcanic rock of low density) of about 25 cubic km in volume!

Cataclysmic stage

August 27 was the D day four tremendous explosions (3-30, 6-40, 8-20, 10-02) that rocked the whole area. The last was the worst its sound has the record of the loudest ever recorded on earth, the tsunamis it recorded were 100 feet high! The ash emitted to the height of 50 miles (80 km). No living things were left alive in the surrounding islands.

The volcanic ash that fell on the Ketimbang province of Sumatra itself killed more than a thousand people. Those dead in the tsunamis it triggered can only be guessed.

The official records kept by the Dutch authorities report the total toll as 36417; how they collected this exact data is best known only to them! By 28th the volcano went silent. By that time the Island of Krakatoa was entirely disappeared except the Cone.

Business as usual

In 1816 after the 1883 eruption one Dutch by name Johanan Handl arrived on Krakatoa with a right to mine the pumice from about 9 sq km area left after the blast. Four European families and thirty workers were part of the team. He resided in built house and garden in the southern part of the island. For two years until he left the island Johanan Handl was the ‘uncrowned king’ of Krakatoa! It is said that it was he who introduced the black rats in to this island.

Krakatoa now

Anak KrakatoaAnak Krakatoa

The Volcano at Krakatoa never takes a long nap, goes on erupting intermittently a recent one was in 1994, in 2007 also saw it spitting gas and lava. This island is on a ‘growth path’ since 1950 as the lava and ash spit by the volcano fill the surrounding ocean the sea recede expanding the island area at 5 inches per week! For scientists Krakatoa is a laboratory for conducting their research on volcano logy.

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