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What is Krakatoa?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 23, 2024
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Krakatoa is a volcanic island that forms part of the chain of islands that bears the same time. The island itself is in the country of Indonesia, and was the site of one of the best-known volcanic events in history. Beginning on 26 August 1883, the volcano erupted in a series of violent explosions that sent roughly 5 cubic miles (21 cubic km) of ash and volcanic material into the atmosphere. The final explosion was said to be the largest, and was heard as far away as the western edge of Australia, over 1,900 miles (3,100 km) away, and the island of Rodrigues, nearly 3,000 miles (5,000 km) from the eruption site.

The eruption of the main volcano on Krakatoa was so powerful that more than two-thirds of the island was destroyed. This was not just the destruction of animal or plant life; the island was literally wiped off the map and into the ocean by the force. Hundreds of nearby villages and towns were damaged or destroyed, and the death toll was officially placed at more than 36,000.

Most of the documented destruction was as a result of the tsunamis created by the sudden displacement of so much of the island into the ocean. One notable measure of the power of these tsunamis was the final resting place of a steamship caught in the destructive force of these waters. This ship, The Berouw, was carried over 1 mile (1.6 km) inland, resulting in the death of more than two dozen crew members.

In the months and years following the famous eruption, unusual atmospheric phenomena were visible, produced as a result of the airborne volcanic matter. Sunsets in many parts of the world were extraordinarily bright and colorful for the same reason. The time period in which the eruption took place means that little to no photographic evidence of these events exists, but many artists attempted to capture them in paintings and other works.

The Krakatoa volcano was relatively quiet for a few decades following the 1883 eruption. Early in the 20th century, however, it began to erupt again. Since these eruptions happened underwater, they had the effect of creating a new island in the place where the old one used to be. By the middle of the 20th century, this island was visible from high in the air, and has continued to grow in height at the rate of about 16 feet (5 meters) per year. The new island is called Anak Krakatau, which means "child of Krakatoa" in the local dialect.

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Discussion Comments

By titans62 — On May 20, 2012

@kentuckycat - You are correct as far as deadlier volcanoes go, as a volcanic eruption at Lake Toba in Indonesia nearly wiped out the human race and another in Medieval Europe killed millions due to the pollution of the atmosphere.

One needs to keep in mind there are many factors to gauge the severity of the volcanoes and as far as blast goes scientists have determined that Krakatoa may very well be the most destructive force that has occurred in human history.

Unfortunately there is not much more to say about the area of Krakatoa, because this volcanic eruption is their legacy and I do not hear very much about the islands themselves.

My question is do people still live on the islands in large numbers or was the who island chain literally wiped off the map and is uninhabitable today?

By kentuckycat — On May 20, 2012

@JimmyT - Although Krakatoa is the largest volcanic blast in recorded human history, recorded history only goes back so far and there have been others that have caused a greater loss of human life.

I know that there are super volcanoes out there under the Earth's surface that have nearly wiped out the human race in the past and I imagine there have also been others that have caused a greater loss of life than Krakatoa.

The thing about Krakatoa is that the surrounding islands were isolated and most people killed were killed in the blast. Most people that die from volcanoes die from the volcanic ash that envelopes the atmosphere and causes people trouble breathing.

By JimmyT — On May 19, 2012

@jmc88 - You are correct and there is a good reason for a lot of people hearing of Krakatoa and that is because it is known as the largest volcanic eruption in recorded human history.

Although Mount Saint Helens and Pompeii get a lot of press, the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 was so massive that it is easily the largest volcanic eruption ever.

Also, as far as death toll goes Krakatoa far outdistances Pompeii's eruption as well as Mount Saint Helens with over thirty thousand people killed from the blast and the ensuing ash fall.

When one thinks about it this is an incredible amount of people lost and, but I am sure that there are other volcanoes that have accumulated a larger death toll.

By jmc88 — On May 18, 2012

I find the subject of Krakatoa to be very interesting and I read a lot about it as a kid. I remember being enthralled by the story of a volcano that wiped out an entire island.

People do not realize that there are very few stories like this and although when volcanic eruptions occur they are heavily publicized, they are very uncommon and do not usually do an incredible amount of destructive damage.

Besides Pompeii and Mount Saint Helens Krakatoa is probably the most known volcanic eruption and many people that do not know much about topics such as this have probably still heard of it.

By anon73331 — On Mar 26, 2010

No that is the new island it made after the eruption.

By anon32011 — On May 14, 2009

The true name of the volcano is Anak Krakatoa.

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