A plume of gas and ash billows some six miles high from the Mount Merapi volcano Nov. 4. (Clara Prima/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Nov. 10, 2010 (Boston Globe) -- THE MERAPI volcano, currently exploding more forcefully every day in Indonesia, is located on the Sundra Arc, one of the planet’s most complex and dangerous geological areas. This is where two large plates of the earth’s crust, the Australian and Indian plates, are rapidly plunging down below the mini Burma plate to create the world’s deepest and most powerful earthquakes and the world’s largest and most dangerous volcanoes. Some scientists fear that something catastrophic may be brewing beneath the Sundra Arc.
The world’s three most deadly tectonic events in recorded history all occurred in this arc of volcanic islands that include Sumatra and Java. Tambora, the largest volcano ever recorded in human history, erupted in 1815. Records were not very good at the time, but at least 100,000 people died in the supervolcano. The eruption wafted thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which coalesced with raindrops to form a veil of sulfuric acid that reflected sunlight back into space, leading the following year to “The Year Without a Summer.’’
The veil of sulfuric acid also caused the atmospheric sunsets so favored by the maritime painter William Turner. But the weather was so atrocious in the summer of 1816 that Mary Shelley and her husband holed up on the shores of Lake Geneva where she wrote her creepy classic, “Frankenstein.’’
In 1831, the world’s second largest recorded volcano blew four cubic miles of material off the top of Krakatoa Mountain and into the Indian Ocean, where it created a 150-foot high tsunami that killed 34,000 people. This disaster was more fully recorded because the telegraph had just been invented.