20th Oct 2012

A Perilous Turquoise Beauty

In Indonesia, a volcano called Kawah Ijen towers up 2,600 metres above East Java. At its peak is the world’s largest acidic crater lake, 200 metres deep and filled with the brilliant turquoise flames of burning molten sulfur. This sulfur comes from an active gaseous vent on the lakeshore, and it is capitalized on by local mining operations: the gases are capped by a network of manmade pipes so that the sulfur consenses into a molten red liquid, which then solidifies into pure, bright yellow sulfur. Under the light of the moon, pitifully-paid miners trek up the volcano and face the noxious fumes with barely any protection, quarrying the rich, solid sulfur deposits by breaking it into manageable chunks. They then carry sulfur-laden baskets (weighing up to 90 kg) out of the crater and several long kilometres down to the weighing station—not just once, but several times a day. The sulfur is used in a variety of industrial processes, including vulcanizing rubber and bleaching sugar. Miners extract approximately 14 tons a day, which, incredibly, is just 20 percent of the volcano’s awe-inspiring daily deposit.

Check out the full gallery by Olivier Grunewald

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