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The explosion of this triad of volcanoes on August 27, 1883, the culmination of a three-month eruptive phase, astonished the world because of its global impact. Perhaps one of the most influential factors, however, was its timing. It happened during a time of major growth in science, technology, and communications, and the world received current news accompanied by the correspondents' personal observations. The explosion was heard some 3,000 mi (4,828 km) away, on the Island of Rodriguez in the Indian Ocean. The glow of sunsets was so vivid three months later that fire engines were called out in New York City and nearby towns.

Krakatoa (or Krakatau), located in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, is part of the Indonesian volcanic system, which was formed by the subduction of the Indian Ocean plate under the Asian plate. A similar explosion occurred in A.D. 416, and another major eruption was recorded in 1680. Now a new volcano is growing out of the caldera, likely building toward some future cataclysm.

This immense natural event, perhaps twice as powerful as the largest hydrogen bomb, had an extraordinary impact on the solid earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere , and demonstrated their interdependence. It also made possible the creation of a wildlife refuge and tropical rain forest preserve on the Ujung Kulon Peninsula of southwestern Java.

Studies revealed that this caldera, like Crater Lake, Oregon, resulted from Krakatoa's collapse into the now empty magma chamber. The explosion produced a 131-ft (40-m) high tsunami, or tidal wave, which carried a steamship nearly 2 mi (3.2 km) inland, and caused most of the fatalities resulting from the eruption. Tidal gauges as far away as San Francisco Bay and the English Channel recorded fluctuations.

The explosion provided substantial benefits to the young science of meteorology . Every barometer on Earth recorded the blast wave as it raced towards its antipodal position in Columbia, and then reverberated back and forth in six more recorded waves. The distribution of ash in the stratosphere gave the first solid evidence of rapidly flowing westerly winds, as debris encircled the equator over the next 13 days. Global temperatures were lowered about 0.9°F (0.5°C), and did not return to normal until five years later.

An ironic development is that the Ujung Kulon Peninsula was never resettled after the tsunami killed most of the people. Without Krakatoa's explosion, the population would have most likely grown significantly and much of the habitat there would likely have been altered by agriculture. Instead, the area is now a national park that supports a variety of species , including the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus ), one of Earth's rarest and most endangered species . This park has provided a laboratory for scientists to study nature's healing process after such devastation.

See also Mount Pinatubo, Philippines; Mount Saint Helens, Washington; Volcano

[Nathan H. Meleen ]



Nardo, D. Krakatoa. World Disasters Series. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1990.

Simkin, T., and R. Fiske. Krakatau 1883: The Volcanic Eruption and Its Effects. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 1983.


Ball, R. "The Explosion of Krakatoa," National Geographic 13 (June 1902): 200203.

Plage, D., and M. Plage. "Return of Java's Wildlife," National Geographic 167 (June 1985): 75071.

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