Krakatoa erupts - On this day in history


27 August 2016
27-August-Krakatoa_eruption_lithograph-80753.jpg Krakatoa eruption
The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa destroyed most of the island

On this day in history, 1883: Two-thirds of Krakatoa in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) collapsed in a chain of titanic explosions, destroying most of the island and its surrounding archipelago.

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa began in the afternoon of 26 August 1883 (with origins as early as May of that year), and culminated with several destructive eruptions on 27 August.

It was one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events in recorded history, with at least 36,000 deaths being attributed to the eruption itself and the tsunamis it created. Significant additional effects were also felt around the world.

On 27 August four enormous explosions took place. Each explosion was accompanied by large tsunamis, which are believed to have been over 30 meters high in places. 

The pressure wave generated by the colossal fourth and final explosion radiated out from Krakatoa at 1,086 km/h (675 mph). It was so powerful that it ruptured the eardrums of sailors 64km (40 miles) away on ships in the Sunda Strait.

The pressure wave was recorded on barographs all over the world. Several barographs recorded the wave seven times over the course of five days: four times with the wave travelling away from the volcano to its antipodal point, and three times travelling back to the volcano, meaning the wave rounded the globe three and a half times. Ash was propelled to an estimated height of 80km (50 miles).

The eruptions diminished rapidly after that point, and by the morning of 28 August, Krakatoa was silent. Small eruptions, mostly of mud, continued into October 1883.

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Ships as far away as South Africa rocked as tsunamis hit them, and the bodies of victims were found floating in the ocean for months after the event.

Smaller waves were recorded on tidal gauges as far away as the English Channel. These occurred too soon to be remnants of the initial tsunamis, and may have been caused by concussive air waves from the eruption.

In the year following the eruption, average Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures fell by as much as 1.2°C (2.2°F). Weather patterns continued to be chaotic for years, and temperatures did not return to normal until 1888.

The eruption darkened the sky worldwide for years afterwards, and produced spectacular sunsets throughout the world for many months. British artist William Ashcroft made thousands of colour sketches of the red sunsets halfway around the world from Krakatoa in the years after the eruption. This eruption also produced a Bishop's Ring around the sun by day, and a volcanic purple light at twilight.

Pictured: An 1888 lithograph of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.