Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year to everyone. Yesterday I took most of the day off and just relaxed. While surfing channels on my newly acquired satellite TV, I ended up watching an episode of Human Planet (Discovery Channel) about people who live at high altitudes. One of the groups featured is the sulphur miners from Indonesia.    These brave and somewhat crazy people are certainly a rare breed of "rockhounds."

They mine inside an active volcano: the Ijen volcano complex in East Java. The largest of a series of calderas is about 12 miles wide (20 km), which has a one-kilometer-wide turquoise-colored acid crater lake. The lake is the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation, in which sulfur-laden baskets are carried by hand from the crater floor. Many other post-caldera cones and craters are located within the caldera or along its rim. The active crater at Kawah Ijen has an equivalent radius of 361 metres (1,184 ft), a surface of 0.41 square kilometres (0.16 sq mi). It is 200 metres (660 ft) deep and has a volume of 36 cubic hectometres (29,000 acre·ft). The pH of the water in the crater was measured to be 0.5 due to sulfuric acid.

Below is a 1937 Dutch map of the caldera complex. This and the next two images were taken from

An active vent at the edge of the lake is a source of elemental sulfur, and supports the mining operation. Escaping volcanic gasses are channeled through a network of ceramic pipes, resulting in condensation of molten sulfur. The sulfur, which is deep red in color when molten, pours slowly from the ends of these pipes and pools on the ground, turning bright yellow as it cools. The miners break the cooled material into large pieces and carry it away in baskets. Miners carry loads, which range from 75 kilograms (170 lb) to 90 kilograms (200 lb), up 300 metres (980 ft) to the crater rim, with a gradient of 45 to 60 degrees and then 5 kilometers (3 miles) down the mountain for weighing. Most miners make this journey twice a day. A nearby sugar refinery pays the miners by the weight of sulfur transported. As of September 2010, the typical daily earnings were equivalent to approximately $13. The miners often use insufficient protection while working around the volcano and complain of numerous respiratory afflictions. There are 200 miners which extract 14 tons per day.

Here are some photos I took from my TV screen.

My favorite new channel is Dish Earth. One of the Dish satellites is parked in an orbit 22,000 miles (35,505 km) above the earth. The average distance the moon is from earth is 238,857 miles (384,403 km), so the satellite is located around 9 percent of the distance to the moon! The live-feed camera on the satellite shows the cloud-covered earth. In yesterday's image you can clearly see the southwestern part of North America, including the Baja peninsula in Mexico.  As usual this time of year, we have clouds over the upper Midwest.

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