By Chet Yarbrough
“Krakatoa” offers a layman’s insight to the source and consequence of tsunamis. Simon Winchester’s story is principally about the volcanic eruption of Mt. Krakatoa in 1883 but it cracks knowledge’s door about one of the most frightening natural occurrences in the world.
Imagine standing on a beautiful sandy beach on a sunshine soaked day and seeing 40 to 100 foot waves heading toward shore at 70 miles per hour.
Reading “Krakatoa” explains how that wall of water is formed. Until the era of the Krakatoa eruption, science did not have a clear explanation for the topography of the world. After Krakatoa, the mystery of plate tectonics is revealed. In that revealing is the explanation of monster waves that seem to appear out of nowhere. YOUTUBE: PLATE TECTRONICS-http://youtu.be/ryrXAGY1dmE
The animal and plant kingdoms inhabit seven or eight major tectonic plates and an uncounted number of minor plates that float on a fluid-like center called the asthenosphere. When these plates crash into each other, mountain ranges are formed, volcanic eruptions explode in fire and brimstone, and earthquakes shake the foundations of civilization. Tectonic plates are constantly reshaping the world.
Winchester tells the story of death and destruction caused by the eruption of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait off Indonesia, a byway between the Indian and Pacific oceans, a hot bed of volcanic activity. http://maps.google.com/maps?q=sunda+strait+map&ll=-4.740675,120.410156&spn=115.143208,158.027344&hnear=Sunda+Strait&gl=us&t=m&z=3 Not surprisingly, the Indian Ocean is the location of the undersea quake that resulted in the tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in 2004, two years after Winchester’s book is published.
In contrast to the death toll of the 2004 tsunami, Krakatoa’s eruption and its tsunami killed 36,000 people but Winchester opens the door of knowledge about nature and life’s tenuous existence on earth.
Winchester explains the process of tectonic plate collisions and the horrendous force created when one plate folds under another in a process described as subduction. As subduction occurs, a tremendous wave of destruction is created. Islands of land may disappear by folding into a mantle of molten rock. When subduction occurs in an ocean, the folding plate creates a wave of destruction based on the depth of the water in which the subduction occurs. On land, subduction may result in a mountain range from the buckling of one plate as it crashes into another. On water, subduction may result in a 100 foot wave that will travel hundreds of miles until its force is dissipated by land or distance.
One of the most beautiful places on earth is Santorini, a Greek island in the Mediterranean. Much of its beauty is enhanced by the high cliff that overlooks the Mediterranean. A visitor sits at a restaurant, sipping licorice liquor, while the sun sets on an odd circle of water defined by a caldera, a collapse of land caused by a volcanic eruption. YOUTUBE: SANTORINI THE BEST ISLAND IN GREECE-http://youtu.be/M84us5Wvy2U
Santorini’s eruption is estimated to have occurred around 1600 BC and is surmised to be the cause of the end of the Minoan Civilization in Crete (the cradle of western civilization). Crete is over 120 miles south of Santorini; probably not critically vulnerable to the volcanic blast but undoubtedly inundated by a consequent tsunami.
(Having lived in Richmond, Washington when Mt St. Helens erupted, a bright sunshiny day turned into pitch black night within hours of the eruption which was 145 miles away. Thankfully, no body of water surrounded the Washington eruption. YOUTUBE: MT. ST. HELENS ERUPTION-http://youtu.be/xP2dreOI8gI)
Winchester explains that volcanic eruptions are not only harbingers of death but have a world-wide impact on the environment. He reports a drop in average world temperature by one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) after Krakatoa’s final act. The drop in temperature is averaged over a year after the event. Crops throughout the world were affected. A group of scientists in 2010 report that Krakatoa’s environmental impact extended into the 20th century with warmer ocean currents and rising tides.
Winchester’s revelations in “Krakatoa” contextualizes both the ancient and modern world. A reader begins to appreciate how apocryphal stories in the bible reflect the truth of real world occurrences. Winchester suggests that Muslim domination of the Indonesian archipelago can be directly connected to Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption.* At the same time, Winchester shows how science advances understanding of the natural world in modern times and demystifies much of the spiritual world interpreted by biblical historians.
*Kratatoa began reinventing itself within months of disappearing below the sea. Because of tectonic plate hyperactivity in the Sunda Strait, Anak Krakatau (child Krakatau) has risen from below sea level to approximately 2667 feet above sea level. Anak Krakatau is geography’s way of reinventing itself with its most recent exhibition in 2010.