Susan Page Davis here.
The island of Krakatoa wasn’t large—just three miles wide and five and a half miles long. But when its volcanic peaks exploded in August, 1883, it produced the loudest noise in recorded history.
The island actually went through a series of eruptions and explosions that year, beginning in May, but the largest and final one was heard as far away as Alice Springs, Australia, 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) distant. Although not quite the strongest or most destructive of volcanic eruptions, it is the loudest we have documented.
|Eruption at Krakatoa in 2008. By flydime [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
In charge of the Dutch East Indies at the time were Dutch authorities, who recorded an official death toll of 36,417, but some sources estimate the actual losses at 120,000 or more people. Many settlements on nearby islands were completely wiped out by the enormous waves.
Many people who heard the sound of the explosions wished they hadn’t. Sailors on ships forty miles away, in the Sunda Strait, suffered ruptured eardrums. Thousands of miles farther off, people thought they were hearing cannons firing and the noise of a major battle.
Nighttime view of the 2008 eruption. By Thomas.Schiet (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Located between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java, Krakatoa had three volcanic peaks. The historic blasts obliterated two of them. The island is now about a third as large as it began that year. This was not the first seismic activity involving Krakatoa, but it was the most impressive, at least so far as is known in recorded history.
On May 20, 1883, steam began venting from the northernmost of the island’s three peaks. Ash eruptions reached an estimated altitude of 20,000 feet. A few weeks later, things quieted down. On June 16, loud explosions were heard and a black cloud of smoke covered the island for several days. When winds cleared the cloud away a week or so later, two plumes of ash could be seen. These were thought to come from new vents between the cones.
On August 11, a Dutch engineer paid the island a visit. He observed three major ash columns and nearly a dozen steam vents. A layer of ash about 20 inches thick covered much of the island, and all the vegetation was dead. He warned against landing on the island, and people stayed away.
Things heated up, and on August 26 the climatic action began. Explosions could be heard every few minutes. About one in the afternoon, a cloud of black ash seventeen miles high could be seen from great distances. Ships in the vicinity reported heavy ash fall. Pieces of hot pumice up to four inches across landed on their decks.
On August 27, four huge explosions occurred at 5:30, 6:44, 10:02, and 10:41 a.m., triggering tsunamis and throwing much of the island skyward. The one at 10:02 was the largest, and was heard in Perth, Western Australia, 1,930 miles away, and across the Indian Ocean on Rodrigues Island, near Mauritius, 3,000 miles away. People there thought nearby ships were firing their guns.
|This view was taken in1999. By Ian K Stephenson (I took this photo myself on a Ricoh RDC-4200) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
Along with the flying debris and ash, the tsunamis generated by the explosions devastated nearby settlements. No survivors remained on Sebesi Island, about eight miles away. About three thousand people had lived there. No one really knows how many people died. Reports came in up to a year later of skeletons floating on rafts of volcanic pumice, washing up on the east African coast.
The tsunamis were reported at more than one hundred fifty feet high in some places. Smaller waves were recorded on tidal gauges as far away as the English Channel. Dutch officals said 165 villages and towns were destroyed and 132 seriously damaged.
The following year, the average summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were 1.2 degrees below normal. This was not as extreme as the year 1816, when temperatures averaged 5 degrees below normal, resulting in the “year without a summer” after the eruption of Mount Tambora. Record rainfalls in California fell in 1883-84. Weather patterns and temperatures did not return to normal for five years after the Krakatoa eruption.
The sky was darkened worldwide after the eruption, and extremely colorful sunsets were seen for several years afterward. Some were so bright that fire engines were called out in New York and Connecticut because people thought a structure was burning nearby. People reported seen blue or green moons, and lavender suns. These effects were likely caused by ash clouds in the air.
Much more can be read about the causes and effects of the Krakatoa eruption. The island was still steaming in October, but after that was quiet until 1913, when a major landslide from a cliff was at first reported as another, smaller eruption.
|This map shows the current configuration of Krakatoa and nearby island, with area of the island before the 1883 eruptions shaded. USGS (CVO Website -
Krakatau, Indonesia - Map) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
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Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels. She’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. Her newest books include River Rest, Heart of a Cowboy, and Mountain Christmas Brides. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .