Friday, May 17, 2013


News travels fast, especially if it involves a natural disaster such as an earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption.  We take it for granted now, but the eruption of Krakatoa on August 27th, 1883 made global headlines within hours due to news transmissions via undersea transoceanic telegraph wires.  Telegraph posts on various islands near Krakatoa gave continuous updates as the eruptions began.  This was the first time newspapers around the world were able to give current reports and daily updates on a live event to their readers.

Published in 1900, L'éruption du Krakatoa et les tremblements de terre by Camille Flammarion gave a description of natural disasters including those surrounding the time of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.

Camille Flammarion 1842-1925
Flammarion was a noted French astronomer who helped to popularize the field of astronomy and wrote over 70 books.  He founded the French Astronomical Society and the Juvisy Observatory.  A crater on our moon and another crater on Mars are named after him.  Many of his ideas about science translated into speculation about the world beyond earth and the afterlife.  While his primary focus was on astronomy, he also studied other physical fields of science and philosophy.  He was interested in the afterlife and speculated about life on other planets.    He also studied other physical fields of science as well as "psychic forces" such as telepathy.  

He is best remembered as a popular early science fiction writier of books such as Omega: The Last Days of the World (which became a film in 1930), Uranie, Lumen and Stella.  Omega was apocalyptic in nature and he drew from descriptions of Krakatoa to describe his futuristic end of life on earth:

A digital version of his non-fiction book on Krakatoa is posted at the end of this post.  While there don't appear to be any other translations of his study on Krakatoa as a scientific work, there is plenty of information to be found on this infamous and tragic event.  A much more recent book worth reading is Simon Winchester's 2003 book titled Krakatoa:  The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 describes the chronology events, combines eyewitness accounts and adds more recent discoveries to the discussion.

Not only did people read about the eruption, many people actually heard it from as far as 3000 miles away. It ruptured the eardrums of nearby sailors.  Many at first thought it was the sound of a ship in distress or thought it was artillery fire.  It's little wonder considering the explosion was so intense that wild barometric pressure fluctuations were noted around the world. It's final explosive eruption is said to have produced the loudest sound ever recorded in history.

From 'The Eruption of Krakatoa: And Subsequent Phenomenon'

There were visible effects for all to see as well.  The sky darkened around the world by ash in the air and caused vivid red sunsets, orange skies, blue moons and lavender suns.

From 'The Eruption of Krakatoa: And Subsequent Phenomenon'

It is believed by researchers who studied atmospheric conditions and the location of the artist that the skyline in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' was inspired by blood red and orange skies caused by the eruption of Krakatoa.  The following quote from an article titled 'The Scream', East of Krakatoa published Feb 2, 2004 in the New York Time explains:

Of the scene in New York, The New York Times of Nov. 28, 1883, reported: ''Soon after 5 o'clock the western horizon suddenly flamed into a brilliant scarlet, which crimsoned sky and clouds. People in the streets were startled at the unwonted sight and gathered in little groups on all the corners to gaze into the west. Many thought that a great fire was in progress.'' Two days later, Munch's hometown paper carried this account: ''A strong light was seen yesterday and today around 5 o'clock to the west of the city. People believed it was a fire: but it was actually a red refraction in the hazy atmosphere after sunset.''

Munch wasn't even alone on his twilight perambulation around Christiania. He wrote in his journal: ''I was walking along the road with two friends -- then the Sun set -- all at once the sky became blood red -- and I felt overcome with melancholy. I stood still and leaned against the railing, dead tired -- clouds like blood and tongues of fire hung above the blue-black fjord and the city.''
Where Munch was alone, though, was in his response. ''My friends went on,'' the journal entry continues, ''and I stood alone, trembling with anxiety. I felt a great, unending scream piercing through nature.''
Krakatoa had a history of explosive and dramatic eruption.  The following entry from The Eruption of Krakatoa: And Subsquent Phenomena published in 1888 mentions eruptions of Krakatoa in the 1600s.

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa tore the island and volcano apart, caused tsunami's with 120 foot high waves, caused fluctuations in barometric pressure readings around the globe and forever changed the physical landscape of the Sunda Straits.

This eruption of Krakatoa is the second deadliest volcano on record having caused over 35,000 deaths which is slightly more than Mount Vesuvius of Italy caused in 79AD.   Only Mount Tambora, also in Indonesia, took a greater toll when it caused triple the amount of deaths and a year without summer in 1815.

In 1927, a new volcano erupted from the sea floor and has been dubbed Anak Krakatoa or the son of Krakatoa which remains highly active.  It's both the youngest and fastest growing volcano on the planet.  The potential for another major eruption in the future is not in question.

In 2006, a BBC docudrama recounted the events of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa: The Last Days.  

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