Tambora, the lost summer and the hobby horse

Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day Lord Byron, Darkness, 1816 The world has changed. It is not something we normally notice – change is slow and memory surprisingly selective. Nothing has altered but everything’s changed, as the song says, paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre. We have little idea of how our parents…

Prelude to Krakatau. III

In Part 1 and Part II we went over the current state of Krakatau and its history over the 300 years before the Big One. Now it is time to find out what caused the Big Bang, whether it is a recurrent offence, and to try our hand at the big question: why is such…

Prelude to Krakatau. II

In part I, we discussed the geology and current state of Krakatau. Now it is time to look at events before the Big Eruption. Was it hiding in the shadows, or did it make its intentions clear to all? History For centuries before its destruction, Krakatau was a familiar landmark. At least some of the…

Prelude to Krakatau. I

All eruptions have history. Volcanoes may sometimes appear to erupt out of the blue; the mountain may not even have been recognized as a volcano, before blowing up. But the unexpectedness stems from our lack of knowledge. In the case of monogenetic volcanoes, which only erupt once, the volcanologist will recognize from the cones in…

Eruptions to come

Let’s start with a question. Which country do you think has the most frequent volcanic eruptions? Before you read on (or peek below for the answer), take a minute to think about it. You can probably guess that Australia is not a front runner. In fact, only two or three countries readily come to mind.…

The Sulawesi earthquake

Sulawesi is the unknown Indonesia. Some may remember it under its Portuguese name of Celebes. It is part of the northern chain of Indonesian islands which runs from Borneo to New Guinea. The island has a disjointed shape, appearing as a connection of peninsulas running in random directions, like an uncoordinated octopus. The four peninsulas…

Kelimutu: the magic of colour

There is more to Flores. The island is spectacular in any case. The Portuguese explorers called it Cabo de Flores (Cape of Flowers) because of the red-flowered flame trees, dotted between the palm trees of the north coast. The landscape is varied, from low-land savannah to volcanic rain forest. It is not as wet here as…

Gunung Agung and the potential future

Most people have by now noticed that Gunung Agung has stopped erupting. And to understand why that has happened, and what will happen soon, we need to look at what happened during the eruption. We also need to look at what is currently happening. When a volcano is showing no visible signs of activity, we…

Agung again: the eruption of 1963

There was a lot going in the 1960’s. This was the time of the generation battle, where the children who had grown up in a time of austerity and a cold war, rebelled and looked for something different – exploring, ignoring the boundaries but never quite finding what they were looking for. Martin Luther King…

Krakatoa skies: when the Sun turned blue

Just after 4pm, the phones started ringing at the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill. Caller after caller reported seeing the sun. The date was September 27, 1950, and the place was Edinburgh, Scotland. Seeing the sun in Scotland can be a bit of a rarity, but even the Scots knew that the sun should not…