The big picture: Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen Volcano

Wednesday, 3 June, 2009

About two months ago I posted a link to photos of the Kawah Ijen Volcano in Indonesia, and its lake of sulfuric acid. Big Picture has now assembled some amazing photos of the volcano, together with the sulfur miners who work there, and the often very dangerous environment they operate in.

In East Java, Indonesia lies Kawah Ijen volcano, 2,600 meters tall (8,660ft), topped with a large caldera and a 200-meter-deep lake of sulfuric acid. The quietly active volcano emits gases through fumaroles inside the crater, and local miners have tapped those gases to earn a living. Stone and ceramic pipes cap the fumaroles, and inside, the sulfur condenses into a molten red liquid, dripping back down and solidifying into pure sulfur. Miners hack chunks off with steel bars, braving extremely dangerous gases and liquids with minimal protection, then load up as much as they can carry for the several kilometers to the weighing station. Loads can weigh from 45 to 90kg (100 – 200 lbs), and a single miner might make as many as two or three trips in a day. At the end of a long day, miners take home approximately Rp50,000 ($5.00 u.s.). The sulfur is then used for vulcanizing rubber, bleaching sugar and other industrial processes nearby.

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