The Blue Volcano
In East Java, Indonesia there is a stretch of elaborate geological formations that make up the Kawah Ijen volcanic complex—a volcano with more than one vent.
The Ijen Volcano isn’t just any volcano though, this one spews blue lava.
Believed to be the only volcano on the planet to have these striking blue flames, the Ijen volcano may be a beautiful sight to see but as the saying goes, every rose has its thorn, and this volcano is no different.
The dazzling blue fire poses an extreme threat to humans—let’s find out why.
The Kawah Ijen Volcanic Complex
The Ijen volcano is located on the island of Java, Indonesia.
As it is part of a volcano complex, it is situated within a large caldera which stretches 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide.
A caldera is a large cauldron-shaped crater that is formed after a volcano erupts and collapses. Eruption points and gas vents usually remain, and a lake is formed in the middle.
The Ijen volcano contains around 22 eruption points, mostly around the edges of the caldera.Jean-Marie Hullot, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
The Blue Lava
The Ijen volcano is no ordinary volcano. The chemical compounds that make up the surroundings of the volcano uniquely affect the appearance of the lava, giving it a bright blue hue.
The blue lava phenomenon is caused by sulfur pockets in the rock. As the rock liquifies, noxious gases like sulfur dioxide are released. As those gases come into contact with oxygen, they ignite, creating a blue flame.Jakub Hałun, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
The blue fire emerges from cracks at temperatures up to 600 degrees C (1,112 degrees F). The flames can reach up to five meters (16 feet) high.
The Ijen volcanic complex is the largest blue flame area in the world.LightRecords, Shutterstock
The electric blue streams of “lava” that spew from the volcano is best seen in the dark when they give off a glowing effect.
The “glow” is actually the light from the combustion of sulfuric gases. It still exists in the daylight, but it is harder to see.
But the blue flames aren’t the only fascinating part of the Ijen volcano.Stéphane DAMOUR, Flickr
The Ijen Crater Lake
The lake that was formed in the crater of the complex is an alluring bright turquoise color. It is approximately one kilometer (0.62 miles) wide and has a volume of 36 million cubic meters (1.3 billion cubic feet).
But don’t let it fool you, this lake is extremely dangerous.komprut nakplang, Shutterstock
The Ijen Crater Lake
The lake gets its color from its very high acid levels and a high concentration of dissolved metals.
It is filled with hydrochloric acid that resulted from hydrogen chloride gas (emitted from the volcano) reacting with the water.
In fact, it is considered the world’s largest highly acidic lake with a measured pH as low as 0.5.Mumemories, Shutterstock
When hot sulfuric gases travel underground without any oxygen they burst out from a vent or a crack in the ground. If the gas is hot enough, it will ignite as soon as it comes into contact with oxygen, resulting in shooting flames.
If the temperature of the gas is lower, the sulfur condenses and falls to the ground as a liquid. At this point, it flows a short distance and then solidifies.
This produces a renewable deposit of mineral sulfur.PJjaruwan, Shutterstock
Sulfur Mining at Ijen
Local people will walk up the volcanic mountain and go down inside the walls of the caldera in a dangerous attempt to collect the sulfur deposits.
They use steel bars to break the sulfur deposits off and load them into baskets to carry back to a local refinery that buys it from them. They get paid based on the amount of sulfur they deliver.
Locals refer to the sulfur as “Devil’s gold”, and it is one of the very few mining operations done by hand.
But sulfur mining is not without its hazards.Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock
Aside from the dangerous trek to get into the mining zone, the sulfur gases are extremely poisonous. Sudden gas releases have taken the lives of many miners.
Local miners typically wear face coverings to avoid breathing in the toxic gases, though it is often not enough. Proper protective equipment is not available or affordable to most of the miners, and at least a third of them regularly experience respiratory diseases.
The miners are not the only people taking this risk, though.Mathias Berlin, Shutterstock
Given that this volcano complex is the only place on Earth to consistently burn blue flames, it has become a growing tourist attraction.
National Geographic’s The Blue Volcano: Kawah Ijen caught the world’s attention and tourist numbers have been steadily increasing since.
Midnight hiking tours are now offered. The hike takes about 3 hours in total to get to the bank of the crater.
Although these tours take place, it is not exactly safe for everyone.
Given the presence of poisonous gases, it is suggested that anyone with asthma or any kind of breathing/health problems should skip the tour.
Even with gas masks and goggles—which are strictly encouraged—the sulfur cloud inside the crater is very nasty and the wind can blow it in your direction at any time.
Also, since it is an active volcanic site, the Indonesian government will close the area if they notice tremors or unusual activity.
Even with precautions, things go wrong, and people have lost their lives at the Ijen volcano.vedrana2701, Shutterstock
Fatalities at Ijen
Eruptions at Ijen don’t seem to be very common, but they do happen from time to time.
In 1976, 49 Indonesian miners lost their lives after a sudden gas explosion. And in 1989, another 25 miners lost their lives from a similar experience.
More recently, in 2018, thirty locals were hospitalized with serious conditions due to poisonous gas after a small eruption happened close by. And in 2020, a miner drowned in the crater after a 3-meter tsunami occurred.MTS_Photo, Shutterstock
The blue lava and turquoise water at the Kawah Ijen volcano is a phenomenon unlike any other in the world.
Even though it is considered one of the most dangerous tourist attractions in the world, it continues to host thousands of intrigued visitors from all over the globe.
If this incredible wonder is on your bucket list, be sure to pack accordingly. Safety should be your first priority.