Monday, December 4, 2006

Painting's red sky linked to volcano's fumes

The blood-red sky that appears to frighten the tormented figure in Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream" was probably caused by the faraway eruption of the volcano Krakatoa, a team of researchers has concluded after analyzing the background location, the artist's journals and reports of "Krakatoa twilights."

The team from Texas State University traveled to Oslo, and found the location of the painting's background. They also concluded that Munch would have been facing in the direction of a cloudscape that had been reddened by the explosion of the volcano. The massive eruption, in what is now Indonesia, occurred in 1883 and sent dust and gases high into the atmosphere, causing twilights to glow red around the world. The team found that Oslo newspapers reported the red sky was very visible at the time.

The work was painted in 1893, a decade after the eruption. That delay was one reason earlier researchers did not make the connection with the volcano. But the Texas team found journal entries by Munch alluding to the remarkably red sky he once saw in Oslo, when he "felt a great, unending scream piercing through nature." The research was reported in Sky & Telescope magazine.

Copyright 2003 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

Washington Post
Sunday, December 21, 2003

World's deadliest volcano draws adventure-seekers

Anak Krakatau, Indonesia -- In an ancient cycle of death and rebirth, the offspring of a legendary volcano is growing at the spot where its parent was destroyed in the most cataclysmic natural event in recorded history -- and becoming a magnet for adventure tourists from around the world.

The volcanic eruption on Aug. 27, 1883, that blew apart the island of Krakatau in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra produced modern history's most powerful explosion -- 30 times stronger than the largest thermonuclear bomb.

The blast was heard in Australia and Burma, thousands of miles from Krakatau, which is also known as Krakatoa. The ash and rock blasted into the air circled the globe for a year, and the Earth's weather patterns were disrupted for several years.

A 130-foot-tall tsunami inundated some 100 villages on both sides of the busy waterway, killing an estimated 37,000 people. Until recently, the rusting hulk of a Dutch warship could be seen 2 1/2 miles inland on a hillside where the wave deposited it.

For decades, all that marked the site of the original 2,640-foot- high island was a tiny islet, renamed Rakata, that had survived the explosion.

But in 1930, a new volcano -- Anak Krakatau, or the Child of Krakatau -- broke through the water at the center of the old volcano, where the tectonic forces that led to the 1883 eruption are pushing magma upward at an astounding pace.

The Child of Krakatau is now growing five yards a year, says Mas Aceh of the Indonesia's Directorate of Volcanology and Geology. It has already reached a height of nearly 1,320 feet.

"This must be one of the most dramatic spots on Earth, with all the most powerful forces in nature beneath our feet," said Heinz Phelps, a visitor from Munster, Germany.

He and two friends were climbing from the tropical forest that has reclaimed the narrow coastal plain on Anak's northern side, up through the black basalt foothills to the volcano's cinder rim.

During active periods, Anak Krakatau erupts 20 to 30 times a day, sending up sulfurous smoke and raining ash and molten rocks down the hillsides into the sea. At such times, the entire island, now a national park, is closed to tourists.

Danger and drama

Even when it is dormant, the difficult hike up the steamy, sun- scorched slope to the crater is discouraged by local guides, since an American tourist was killed and five injured by a 1993 eruption.

But fascinated travelers continue to come, drawn by the history, drama and danger.

"There's something very sinister about this place," said William Redgrave, an Australian tourist. "A sunny tropical paradise with green islands surrounded by aquamarine waters, all sitting atop a giant time bomb."

Most Indonesians prefer to watch the pyrotechnics from one of the hotels that line the beaches around the port town of Anyer on the western tip of Java.

It is easy to hire a boat from there for the 18-mile ride across the turbulent waters to the three-island archipelago encircling Anak Krakatau.

Other sights to see

Two other popular jumping-off spots are Carita Beach and Tanjung Lesung, both just south of Anyer.

Tanjung Lesung is an attractive option for travelers with a bit more time to spend exploring. It is close to the 297,880-acre Ujung Kulon National Park, which is home to the one-horned Javan rhinoceros, one of the rarest animals on Earth.

The Sunda Strait sits just north of the Java trench, a geologically volatile zone where the Australian oceanic plate is moving northward and plunging beneath the Asian continent, creating the network of volcanoes that gave birth to many of the islands in the vast Indonesian archipelago.

Geologists predict Anak will continue growing for several centuries and eventually be vaporized in another colossal eruption similar to the one in 1883.

Copyright 2004 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

by : SLOBODAN LEKIC Associated Press
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The biggest bang in the world

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KRAKATOA: THE DAY THE WORLD EXPLODED, AUGUST 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester Viking, L16.99, pp. 408, ISBN 0066212855

How irritating, I thought after completing this splendid volume, that I never took Simon Winchester up on his suggestion of a hike up Mayon Volcano in the Philippines several years ago. It would have been a lot of fun, and Winchester would - when he was not regaling me with stories of his latest amorous conquests - have made an erudite and entertaining guide. By inclination a lounge-lizard Lothario, he is by academic training a geologist.

In earlier years, and to lesser effect, he was a travel writer. An inveterate raconteur, he likes telling his audiences how one of his books was a terrific flop. It sold 13 copies. These days, his books do rather better (The Surgeon of Crowthorne and The Map that Changed the World were both bestsellers), evidence that he has struck a more profitable vein and matured as a writer. With the unfertile shores of travel literature behind him he has returned to his geological roots and the reader is all the better for it.

Krakatoa tells the story of the world's most superlative volcano. Long known as 'the island with a pointed mountain' in what was then the Dutch East Indies, today western Indonesia, its eruption at two minutes past ten on the morning of 27 August 1883 was the planet's most devastating seismic experience. It was the greatest explosion ever, and the loudest, its thunderous roar audible a whopping 2,968 miles away, the equivalent of a resident of Philadelphia hearing a blast in San Francisco. It was also the world's worst natural disaster. Towering tsunamis fanned out across the globe, swamping 165 East Indian villages and sweeping a woman to death in Ceylon, almost 2,000 miles away. The shock wave emanating from the volcano was so vast it circumnavigated the world seven times. Six cubic miles of rock, ash and dust were hurled into the atmosphere. The cloud of gas, fire and smoke is thought to have risen 24 miles into the air. Krakatoa killed 36,417 people.

Having chosen this dramatic canvas, Winchester reaches for his boldest colours to paint his picture. We take a tour through the colonial history of the East Indies: pepper cultivation; rivalry between the Portuguese and Dutch; settlement and pre-eruption decadence in Batavia; rising tensions between coloniser and colonised. It is lively, pacy stuff, interspersed with a riveting history of geology's halting progress towards understanding the mysteries of volcanoes. Winchester is to be commended for making subduction zones, sea-floor spreading, tectonics and fault-zones appealing to the lay reader. These are some of the best passages in the book.

In particular, he makes a powerful case for the proper recognition of Alfred Russel Wallace, the man who understood before Darwin the science of evolution, but failed to put pen to paper in time to reap the credit. 'He remained loyal, almost servile,' Winchester writes, 'the ever revolving little moon around Darwin's glittering and far grander planet.' Thus it was that Darwinism and 'survival of the fittest' entered the English lexicon while Wallace languished in relative anonymity.

When you are describing the world's most famous volcanic explosion, the temptation must be to reach for the thesaurus now and then and Winchester sometimes lays it on a bit. Amid the lava flows adjectives come tumbling thick and fast, invariably accompanied by an adverb. After 100 of these couplets I stopped counting, but my favourites were: 'amiably syncretic'; 'stutteringly prolix'; 'formidably spectacular'; 'placidly unexciting'; 'temptingly plausible'; 'seductively sinuous'; 'lethally massive'. His agent is 'robustly splendid', his publisher 'deservedly legendary'. Adverbially excessive, you could say.

After his last two volumes, Winchester knows which side his bread is buttered and the travel writing is limited to a few pages at the end. A suitably modest (the style is catching) author makes the pilgrimage to what remains of the island of Krakatoa and after clambering to the top and having an unexpected encounter with a six-foot monitor lizard beats a retreat.

We learn a great deal in the course of this book and Winchester, storyteller to the core, wears his erudition lightly. Perhaps, above all, we understand the fragility of man's existence on this planet. 'Krakatoa is a stark reminder of the truth of Will Durant's famous aphorism: "Civilisation exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice"'.

I only hope one day he invites me on another volcanic jaunt.

Copyright Spectator Jun 7, 2003
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

by Marozzi, Justin

Krakatoa served notice of human's vulnerability

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WASHINGTON -- Ira Gershwin didn't know the half of it. He said the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble. But terra firma itself is far from firm.

Even the continents are wandering, half an inch to four inches a year. The Earth is a work in violent progress. The engine of its evolution is heat -- boiling gas, molten rock and other stuff -- left over from the planet's formation 4.5 billion years ago. The heat frequently bursts through Earth's crust, although rarely as catastrophically as it did 120 years ago on the island of Krakatoa.

If Simon Winchester is correct in his new book -- "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883" -- the current trial in Indonesia of accused perpetrators of last year's terrorist bombing in Bali may be part of the lingering reverberation of the volcanic eruption -- the loudest sound in modern human experience, heard 3,000 miles away -- that made an island disappear.

Billions of tons of material -- six cubic miles of it -- were hurled 120,000 to 160,000 feet in the air. They filtered sunlight, lowering the Earth's temperature and creating spectacular sunsets that for months inspired painters and poets.

And in the East Indies outpost of the Dutch empire, where a notably relaxed and tolerant Islamic faith had long flourished, Krakatoa, by terrifying and dispossessing people, may have catalyzed the much fiercer form of Islam that fused with anticolonialism. It is alive and dealing death today.

Although the people of the East Indies will be forgiven for not appreciating this at the time, Winchester says volcanoes are part of what makes this planet hospitable to humans. They do not erupt so promiscuously as to render the planet unfit for life. And by churning the Earth's mantle, they bring fertile soil and useful minerals to the surface, thereby sustaining the outer earth and the biosphere. For a while.

As Earth heads for frigid lifelessness, the leakage of heat from the Earth's interior causes currents of matter to flow -- movements measured in millimeters a year -- above the molten core and below the crust.

Science in the 1960s at least explained what had long pricked curiosity -- the matching concavity of Africa's west coast and the convexity of South America's east coast. According to the study of plate tectonics, there are, depending on how they are defined, between six and 36 rigid plates on the Earth's surface. In "subduction zones," where one plate slips beneath another, the descending plate pulls down untold billions of tons of material and water. This fuels white-hot seas of soup in immense chambers, from which energy seeks to break through the Earth's surface.

Which is what happened in 1883 in the archipelago that now is Indonesia. Krakatoa's eruption resulted in the destruction of 165 villages and the death of 36,417 people. Most died not from the searing ash, pumice and gas but from giant sea waves produced by the Earth's spasm.

The shock wave circled the Earth seven recordable times. Sea surges were detectable in the English Channel. Three months after the eruption, firemen in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., scrambled in search of what they thought was an immense conflagration that caused the sky to glow. Actually, the glow was light refracted by Krakatoa's debris.

The first major catastrophe to occur after the invention of the telegraph and undersea cables, Krakatoa produced an intimation of the "global village" 77 years before Marshall McLuhan coined that phrase to describe the world-contracting effect of television. Krakatoa was, Winchester argues, "the event that presaged all the debates that continue to this day: about global warming, greenhouse gases, acid rain, ecological interdependence." Suddenly the world seemed to be less a collection of isolated individuals and events and more "interconnected individuals and perpetually intersecting events."

As an epigraph for his book, Winchester chose this from a W.H. Auden poem written in 1944, when the world was in agony and, unbeknownst to Auden, potentially world-shattering knowledge was being acquired at Los Alamos, N.M.:

At any given instant

All solids dissolve, no wheels revolve,

And facts have no endurance --

And who knows if it is by design or pure inadvertence

That the Present destroys its inherited self-importance?

Geology has joined biology in lowering mankind's self-esteem. Geology suggests how mankind's existence is contingent on the geological consent of the planet. Although the planet is hospitable for the moment, it is indifferent -- eventually it will be lethally indifferent -- to its human passengers.

Washington Post Writers Group

Copyright C 2003 Deseret News Publishing Co.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

by : George F. Will


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THE Christmas tsunami made the world shake, the United States roll up its sleeves, and the mind falter. The tidal wave produced by the Krakatoa eruption over a century ago was probably greater. But the population of the world has grown, especially in the tropical and sub-tropical belt that is most susceptible to volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Better warnings, stronger buildings, and improved emergency response will save tens of thousands of lives. But until science advances unimaginably, millions will continue to live at risk.

Early in the aftermath of the debacle, Jan Egeland, a United Nations bureaucrat, said that America's response had been "stingy." His comment was demolished like an empty fishing boat. Forty-five percent of Americans gave some individual contribution; their private donations alone totaled $1 billion. U.S. government aid came via carrier group with an efficiency that no other country, or international organization, could match. The presence of American soldier-Samaritans in sharia-ruled Sumatra offers one more lesson in the American character, and in American competence. Theft and waste will take their cuts; terrorists, one hopes, will fail to take their cuts through bogus charities. But all that can be done will be. That, generally speaking, seems to be America's job in the world order.

A word about President Bush, not to lecture him (his character is fixed), but to instruct future presidents. His initial estimate of what America might spend was ludicrously short. Bill Clinton might also have guessed wrong, but he would have shed a sympathetic tear. Our opinion of Mr. Clinton is well known. Still, it is a fact that the quick and emotional reaction has become part of the job description of the presidency. Bush's shortcomings in this area are related to different virtues he possesses--prudence, seriousness, a robust BS detector. They are still shortcomings.

But perhaps the president can be excused for reticence when religion does not know what to say. Evil is with us every day, in every illness and crime, and in our hearts; disasters gather it in one place. In Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams's meditation on the Middle Ages, he lists the anomalies that theologians like Saint Thomas Aquinas must somehow fit into God's plan. "[S]uffering, sorrow and death; plague, pestilence and famine; inundations, droughts and frosts; catastrophes worldwide and accidents in corners; cruelty, perversity, stupidity, uncertainty, insanity; virtue begetting vice; vice working for good; happiness without sense, selfishness without gain, misery without cause, and horrors undefined." Adams, who had lost a sister in a carriage accident and a wife to suicide, and who had lived through the Civil War, had seen suffering in every shape, and though he honored Aquinas, he accepted no easy answers.

God's answer to Job is that He made the Pleiades. Creation is better than the void; something is better than nothing. Jesus' answer, from the Cross, is that, whatever you suffer, I am there. Though answers, these are not explanations. All we can do is clean up the mess and try to do better. Believers among us will add their prayers.

COPYRIGHT 2005 National Review, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

Krakatoa stifled sea level rise for decades

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Ocean cooling caused by the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 kept sea level worldwide in check well into the 20th century, a new analysis suggests.

When the Indonesian volcano exploded, it hurled immense amounts of ash and other particles into the stratosphere. For up to 2 years, those aerosols blocked about 1 percent of the sunlight that had previously reached Earth, says Peter J. Gleckler, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore (Calif.) National Laboratory. The resulting decrease in absorbed radiation caused the upper layers of the oceans to cool and contract. Worldwide, sea level dropped.

Gleckler and his colleagues used modern oceanographic data to confirm the accuracy of six computer models that consider the effects of volcanic aerosols and other factors on Earth's oceans. On average, those models suggest that, between 1955 and 1998, sea level rose about 1.7 centimeters because of the warming of ocean waters, the researchers note in the Feb. 9 Nature.

Applying those models to look farther back in time, the team detected a drop in sea level after the eruption of Krakatoa. In fact, even though the oceans were gradually warming because of changes in Earth's climate, sea level wouldn't have returned to its pre-Krakatoa height until around 1950, says Gleckler.

Thanks to rapidly rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, the heat content of Earth's oceans is increasing much faster today than it did early in the 20th century. The models suggest that the drop in sea level caused by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which lofted a comparable amount of aerosols as Krakatoa did, lasted only a decade or so.--S.P.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Science Service, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded August 27, 1883 - book review

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More than 40,000 people perished as a result of the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in Java nearly 125 years ago. Most of these people were killed as a result of the giant tsunamis it triggered. The blast was so intense that people felt it thousands of miles away. Pumice from Krakatoa floated as far as the coast of Africa.

The volcano itself exploded into oblivion. Many people in the area believed that the world was coming to an end. However, once the dust settled, scientists began to see Krakatoa as an opportunity for gleaning insight into both the beginnings of life on what was suddenly a barren landscape and the effects of subsurface Earth movements. Just as compelling is the significance of this event as the first global news story.

Via new, state-of-the-art underwater telegraph cables, news of the eruption traveled the globe in a matter of hours. Winchester deftly blends all these elements into a stirring account. He examines the event's long-lasting repercussions for both the people and wildlife of Java and reports on his recent visit there to witness a new mountain rising on the volcano's site at a rate of 20 feet in height and 40 feet in width per year. HarpC, 2003, 416 p., b&w photos/illus., hardcover, $25.95.

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded August 27, 1883 - book review

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