Kawah Ijen, The Volcano That Spews Blue Flames

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Located in East Java, Indonesia is a volcano that spews blue colored flames.

It looks like something out of Harry Potter,

like a wizard might jump up out of the center and into the sky at any moment.

At a whooping kilometer-wide, the acidic crater that gushes blue flames is located at Kawah Ljen.

Here, tourists regularly visit just to get a glimpse of the bright blue beauty.kawah-ijen-3[5]

So what causes this volcano to erupt blue? Every night the same familiar blue glow creeps out of the Kawah Ljen volcano, as the gases bubble up from beneath the volcanic cracks.kawah-ijen-4[5]

These gases are under a great deal of pressure, which is only intensified by the scorching temperatures present (over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit).  In order for sulfur to melt it only needs to reach temperatures of 239 degrees Fahrenheit.kawah-ijen-5[12]

As soon as these gases leak out and touch the oxygen rich air, the gases erupt, shooting flames as high as 16 feet into the sky. As the gases shift into a liquid state, what looks like glistening blue lava flows down the sides of the volcano slope.kawah-ijen-6[9]

It might look like lava, but what you are witnessing is not actually lava, instead the blue results from a glow produced by sulfuric gases. From a distance the blue volcano can look like a campfire for Smurfs, one that only burns brightly at night. The same process takes place all day long, but the blue results are only visible in darkness.kawah-ijen-7[8]

Oliver Grunewald is a well-known French photographer who has taken some incredibly stunning photographs of this mystical site. When he photographs the area he always brings along his gas mask in order to protect himself against the toxic fumes that surround.kawah-ijen-8[8]

Unfortunately, many locals work around the blue volcano without any proper protective gear. These miners are paid $13 a day to collect the sulfur released by the volcano. Some workers use a wet cloth as a makeshift mask, but that doesn’t make their job very easy, comfortable, or even safe.kawah-ijen-9[8]

Local miners have created a series of pipes and tunnels to channel the sulfur from the volcanic gases down into ground pools. Here, the sulfur hardens and dries, turning yellow before workers break it apart into smaller pieces to sell at local refineries.

Some of these pieces are also sold to tourists. The sulfur sells for less than 25 cents a pound, meaning miners deal with large quantities, carting 176-220 pounds of sulfur each day.kawah-ijen-10[8]

Due to toxins that are present, workers are prone to respiratory problems although that doesn’t stop them from taking on extra shifts through the night. According to Cynthia Werner, a research geologist who often frequents the area, many locals remain unaware of the risks these toxins present. Werner, along with others, bring masks for local miners whenever they come for a visit in hopes of spreading awareness while making safety accessible.

Kawah Ljen does not house the only blue volcano; Grunewald has also photographed a blue volcano in Ethiopia, just near the border of Eritrea and Djibouti. Grunewald admits there are always risks to photographing these volcanoes but he thinks the risks are worth it.  kawah-ijen-11[8]

He told New Scientist, “The phenomenon is so uncommon. We really feel like we are on another planet.”

To make you really feel like you’ve left planet earth, the blue volcano at Kawah Ljen sits adjacent to a large green lake called Kawah Ljen Crater Lake. The lake’s unique color can be blamed on the blue volcano, which continually erupts hydrogen chloride gas into the nearby body of water. Creating a green lake with pH levels near 0, and a high concentration of hydrochloric acid. Now that’s one lake you don’t want to go swimming in! kawah-ijen-12[8]