Of Icelandic and Indonesian Volcanoes

Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano regularly emits plumes of smoke and ash.
Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano regularly emits plumes of smoke and ash.

As Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull continues to wreak havoc, the magnitude of its spreading, airborne plume of volcanic ash stands as a testament to the unbridled power volcanoes hold over life on Earth.

Nowhere is that more evident, historically, than a couple of Indonesian volcanoes.

Indonesia’s archipelago of more than 17,000 islands lies entirely within the Ring of Fire, a geologically active region along the Pacific Ocean prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. Horseshoe-shaped, it stretches north along Southeast Asia, across the Bering Strait and down along the western coast of the Americas.

In 1815, the eruption of Mount Tamora on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, was the largest such event in 1,600 years and resulted in the Year Without a Summer, through the massive shift in global weather patterns it predicated. Among its effects were worldwide food shortages, riots and mass migrations. Closer to home, Albany, N.Y., experienced snowfall in June and frost killed many crops along the East Coast.

With more than 130 active volcanoes, Indonesia makes for plenty of headlines and historical events. In Bali, a tourist recently plummeted to his death at Mount Batur. On my trip to Central Java, I saw the effects of recent lava flows at Mount Merapi.

But nothing compares to Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption.

Krakatoa, located in the strait between Java and Sumatra, killed an estimated 40,000 people and sent 5 cubic miles of ash and rock into the atmosphere.

In a New York Times piece, “A Tale of Two Volcanoes,” author Simon Winchester discusses some of Krakatoa’s effects on the world following the massive explosion. The volcanic dust that lingered in the stratosphere caused some dramatic changes in the colors of skies and sunsets.

Among his examples, one stood out:

    And one even more famous painting speaks of Krakatoa as well: recent research suggests that Edvard Munch a decade later painted “The Scream” while remembering a night in Oslo that had been much affected by the volcanic dust. Indeed, the climatic records show that the swirling orange skies behind the terror-stricken face match perfectly those recorded that winter in southern Norway.

How’s that for interconnectedness?

While the images of Eyjafjallajökull erupting have been impressive, commentary from CNN’s Rick Sanchez on Iceland being “too cold” for volcanoes has been inversely so.

It also explains why I refrain from watching TV “news.”

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