Wallpaper Monday

Which do you prefer, orange or blue?

burning sulfur

In East Java, Indonesia, an unusual lake has formed in the crater of a volcano named Kawah Ijen. Unlike most crater lakes, this one is sulfuric acid. When the liquid sulfur at the edge of the lake catches fire, which it does quite frequently, it burns with an eerie blue flame.

Molten sulfur is blood red in color. As it cools, it transitions through oranges and dark yellows until it solidifies into a brilliant yellow. The photo below shows part of this transition.

sulfur drops

The otherworldly beauty of Kawah Ijen is probably not appreciated by the individuals who see it most often. They are sulfur miners, who climb the rim of the crater and descend 655 feet (200 meters) inside in order to chip out chunks of solid sulfur. On the return trip up and out, they are carrying paired baskets of sulfur blocks, weighing between 100 and 200 pounds (45–90 kg). The gases from the crater are both overwhelming and dangerous. Gas masks should be required for safety — but aren’t. And few of the miners have them.

Most miners make two or three trips each day, earning around 60,000 rupiah per trip. That’s about €4.90 or $6.80.

And the blue fire of the burning sulfur? It’s caused by drippings from the miner’s torches, as they toil at night.

burning sulfur 2

There can hardly be a place more worthy of the name “hell on Earth,” but Kawah Ijen is also astoundingly beautiful. The Big Picture covered it back in December 2010; you should take a look.

(The top two photos are by Thorsten Boeckel. Click the images to vulcanize. The bottom photo is from The Big Picture.)

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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2 Responses to Wallpaper Monday

  1. Absolutely beautiful AND educational, as always! I had no idea this could ever turn blue. I prefer the orange, but both images are beautiful.

  2. Ana_ñ says:

    What a world of contrasts!
    You explained it clearly in the post, but I admit it didn’t reach my brain in all its shocking meaning until I saw the photos in The Big Picture you recommended. Not just those in December 2010, but also the pictures of an early coverage in 2009 linked in the web: a total of 52 impressive photos. From the sheer beauty of the colors and textures to the noxious fumes or the injured shoulders of the miners. Then, I truly understood your words “astoundingly beautiful” and “hell on Earth”.

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