Out in the field

Krakatoa revealed? Part two

I’m in Java, Indonesia, filming a documentary on the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa – read part one here.

Today was a krakatoa lighthouse3day of mixed blessings. It started well, with filming at the 4th point lighthouse destroyed originally by the 1883 tsunami and rebuilt two years later – such was the importance of the spice trade (and safe navigation of the Sunda Straits) to the Dutch. After the usual technicalities of using a boom to film me walking up to the newer lighthouse, something I am now quite good at after so much practice, we got to working inside.

It is 14 floors to the top, but worth it because the view is spectacular. It is also incredibly humid and echoey inside. The sound man was in his element, demanding quiet and static (that is, not moving) before we explained how the 40 m wave smashed the lighthouse, killing the lighthouse keeper’s wife and daughter, while he miraculously survived.

Remnants of the original 4th Point Lighthouse, destroyed in the August 27 1883 tsunami

Remnants of the original 4th Point Lighthouse, destroyed in the August 27 1883 tsunami

The afternoon should have been spent doing the now famous liquid nitrogen and water in a trash bin experiment. A plastic bottle is filled up a bit with liquid nitrogen in a bottle weighed down with a brick. The nitrogen boils, ruptures the bottle and produces an explosive column of water, analogous to a gas pressured volcanic eruption. All we needed here was, of course, liquid nitrogen. This had all been arranged well in advance, so I even brought over a dewer, gloves and googles for the occasion. Needless to say, I shouldn’t have bothered. Apparently Mr Jakarta’s Liquid Nitrogen Emporium was closed today. Shame, because we had reccied a beautiful spot on the beach for a sunset finale. But fret not, there are plenty of videos of the experiment already.


The fallback was to film a lump of coral thrown onto land by the tsunami. If you ever watch it, then it will explain the rather ad hoc piece to camera about the power of water. All true, but not what we had planned for.  It was either that, or resort again to the oldest of volcano cliches, shaking up a fuzzy drink and unscrewing the cap. But then who knows what tomorrow will bring? I’ll keep shaking just in case.

Sunset across Sunda Straits, with Anak Krakatau in distance.

Sunset across Sunda Straits, with Anak Krakatau in distance.

3 thoughts on “Krakatoa revealed? Part two

  1. Pingback: Krakatoa revealed? | Geological Society of London blog

  2. Hmm, no nitrogen.
    – Fill bottle with water (nearly) ;
    – Tie bottle to brick ;
    – lob lump of calcium carbide into bottle, screw on lid ASAP and throw “bomb” (not an euphemism) into bucket of water.
    – talk rapidly, then start drawing it out while wincing waiting for the eruption.
    – “boom” ; “splash” ; finish piece.
    Don’t forget to hose the camera down from the caustic solution. Don’t worry ; your skin will grow back.
    Calcium carbide is relatively readily available for powering lamps and welding equipment (it produces acetylene on contact with water). It is also fairly high on the list of “fun” chemicals for doing silly things with. Enjoy!

  3. Pingback: Krakatoa revealed? Part three | Geological Society of London blog

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