Kawah Ijen: Volcano that spews Blue Flames
Kawah Ijen is the volcano that spews blue lava. Banyuwangi Regency is the home for the volcano that vomits blue lava. It lies further inside of Caldera Ijen which is about 20 kilometers wide. The highest peak of the stratovolcanoes belongs to Gunung Merapi which means "mountain of fire" in Indonesian language. There lies an acidic crater lake which is over one kilometer wide in the west of Gunung Merapi. That lake is one of the major reason for the blue flames. It is the site for rigorous sulfur mining where sulphur-laden baskets are carried by hand from crater floor.
Kawah Ijen looks something out of Harry Potter. It looks really magical when it spurts blue lava but it isn't anything magical but is simple basic chemistry. The molten lava which is at ultra high temperature isn't colored differently, apparently seems different because of its exposure to sulfuric gases. The gas escapes through fissures to the surface with high pressure and immense heat which measures upto 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit and the flames rise up to a height of 5 meter or equivalent to 16 feet and more over some of the gases becomes liquid sulfur that flows over the landscape.
Secret of the Blue Lava
Blue lava which is practically impossible is seen at Kawah Ijen which always makes us think is it a miracle or some kind of witchcraft but we are totally wrong it is the result of mere basic chemistry. The fact is that blue lava doesn't even exist. When sulfur gas escapes from the fissures of the landscape it experiences tremendous pressure and is at scorching temperature. As it comes in contact with oxygen present in the air and sparked by the lava, the sulfur readily burn and it burns with blue flame. And due to excessive sulfur presence at times it flows down the rock and it seems as if blue lava is flowing down the rock. Since, it is only the flame which is blue so this phenomenon is seen only at night, during day it appear as a normal volcano.
Documentary on Kawah Ijen
People have been surprised to know that humans are still working in that dangerous and highly toxic crater of Kawah Ijen. Many movie makers have tried to show us the real scenario and how people mine sulfur from those group of stratovolcanoes. The hardship those miners have to go through just for money. They work in that deteriorated environment just for their family to survive Kawah Ijen is also referred as a place where heaven meets hell as on one hand it has its beautiful blue lava but on the other side that place is toxic to an extent that it can burn our lungs. The documentary "Where Heaven meets Hell" shows us each detail about Kawah Ijen.
Reuben Wu's Journey to Kawah Ijen
Reuben Wu is very much fond of volcanoes and his life long dream was to capture the blue lava of the Kawah Ijen in his camera. To reach the crater he had to hike for about two and half hour on a craggy tail and then for another forty five minutes decent to its bank to reach the popular spot of the tourists. Since the blue flames can be seen at night people go up there in the wee hours and watch the sunrise along with it. But Wu decided to go there at sunset to avoid rush and crowd and also to experience the feel of being there at night which tremendously awesome. Wu perfectly captured the toxic beauty of the volcano with wisps of white smoke and steam drifting across a brilliant green lake. The fumes are so toxic that it can burn their lungs thats why the visitor have to wear masks out there and sometimes Wu also got lost in the cloud of those toxic fumes. Aided by the light of a full moon, he made most of his photos with exposures as long as eight minutes using a tripod. He beautifully captured the landscape with his lens and had made us a part of the journey by sharing it with us.
Mining of Sulfur at Kawah Ijen
Hydrogen chloride gas which the volcano releases, when reacted with water gave birth to highly condensed hydrochloric acid. The pH level that hydrochloric acid is almost equal to zero. the volume of the lake is 1.3 billion cubic foot. Cooling of the burning gases results in the deposition of sulfur around the lake. A mining company installed ceramic pipes on a active vent near the edge of the lake. These pipes route the sulfur gases down the vent and as the sulfur gas cools down, it flows from the pipes and turn into solid sulfur mat. Once the solidified sulfur cools down, the miners break it into smaller pieces so that it is easier to carry it on their backs and haul it off the mountain. Miners also spray cool water to the pipes to fasten the process of solidification so that mining process works more efficiently. For 40 years, the miners have been mining sulfur and sometime the work at night also to gain some extra income.