Volcanic eruptions are really terrible natural disaster that does great damage — displacing thousands of people and virtually destroying all vegetation in it’s way if a volcanic mountain erupts. But there’s an exceptional one that surpasses all others, Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen volcano lights up the night with a pretty bright blue glow. How on Earth in the wonderful name of nature is that possible? However, you can unlock this mystery with a little bit of science.
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The active Kawah Ijen volcano is located in Banywang Regency, East Java, Indonesia. The volcano is part of a complex of volcanoes situated within Ijen crater with stratovolcano Gunung Merapi as the highest point. It’s one of the world’s most unusual volcanoes, instead of erupting the usual red lava and black smoke as we know of, it’s underground activities result in bright blue flames.
The molten rock flowing from the volcano is the same as any other: it glows with bright red, yellow, and orange hues. During the night, nature does one of it’s magic tricks. The volcano flow of the lava mysteriously turns into an awesome bright blue flames rising into the air — most people even call it electric blue fire. It was once mentioned on National Geographic, and as a result, has increased the number of tourist to the site.
Electrifying Blue Flames
Over several years, Olivier Grunewald, a Paris-based photographer, has been documenting the Kaweh Ijen volcano, where dazzling, electrifying blue flames are oftentimes seen streaming down the mountain at night.
“This blue glow — unusual for a volcano — isn’t, of course, lava, as unfortunately can be read on many websites,” Grunewald told National Geographic about Kawah Ijen, a volcano on the island of Java.
The glow is actually the light from the combustion of sulfuric gases, Grunewald explains. This mysterious yet amazing natural phenomenon is caused by the sulfuric gases emerging with high pressure and temperatures of a staggering 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit) — alongside the lava.
The combustion of these sulfuric gases — when the red-hot lava gets mixed with oxygen — ignite into flames, and resulting in the incredible brilliant blue glow, which can reach heights of (5 meters) 16 feet into the air. The intensity of the sulfur concentrations causes the blue flames to stream down the side of the volcano; it seems like the lava itself is blue — but, despite what viral images made you believe, it’s not.
“Some of the gases condense into liquid sulfur, which continues to burn as it flows down the slopes, giving the feeling of lava flowing.” said Grunewald.
The Blue Economic Dark Side
The Kawah Ijen volcano is one great tourist destination, but these volcanoes and craters hold a darker secret as well. They serve as a mining site for the locals who constantly collect sulfuric rocks. It’s home to one of the world’s most dangerous sulfur mining operations. Local inhabitants — both adults and children — extract sulfuric rocks. Most of these miners collect the sulfur rocks; spending almost all day collecting sulfuric rock into baskets, then carry them several kilometers to collect their daily payment, usually less than $10.
Not only do they require agility and strength to trek up and down the steep slopes, these miners are at risk of the toxic sulfuric gases for long periods of time — it’s really hazardous. Exposure to chronic sulfur leads to several health issues; such as throat and lung irritation, breathing problems, and the risk of lung disease. The awesome blue glowing spectacle of Kawah Ijen has it’s dark side, too.
Tourists to Kawah Ijen, can take a guided group tour at night to witness the blue flame phenomenon for themselves. Be careful, the whole place can be quite dangerous!
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Jan 30, 2019.