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Over the past few months, photographer Olivier Grunewald’s photos of the Kawah Ijen Volcano in Indonesia have been circulating around the internet creating a stir. The pictures show what appears to be blue lava flowing down the volcano surrounded by thick clouds of gas and smoke.
The lava in the volcano looks like that of any other volcano in the day but at night, the lava glows blue, giving off an extraterrestrial vibe. Indeed, Olivier Grunewald remarked that he felt like he was living on an alien planet while shooting the majestic glowing rocks.
Now it turns out that the volcano spews out huge quantities of Sulfuric gases at high temperatures and pressures (up to 600 C) and they react with the oxygen in the air, causing the Sulfur to burn and give off an electric blue glow. It isn’t the lava itself.
Grunewald came across this amazing site while filming a documentary with Regis Etienne, President of Geneva’s Society for Volcanology. The purpose of the documentary is to reveal the toxic conditions under which miners work here. It seems there is a grave reality behind the glow.
Miners come to mine the Sulfuric Rock that forms after the lava cools along with the burnt Sulfur. These rocks are then used in the food industry and the chemical industry. Some miners work a second shift for twice the pay and mine by the light of the blue lava at night.
Workers include children that are working to support their families. In a country where median daily income is about $13, the workers sell the rocks at about 680 rupiahs per kilogram (6 cents!).
Upon returning after just 30 nights at the site, Grunewald said that it took 3 weeks for his skin to lose the smell of Sulfur. The workers however, have to suffer much more.