Volcano Spews Blue Lava

Rumor: Photograph shows a volcano in Indonesia that spews blue lava.

Stay Informed

The Daily Debunker brings you the top stories on Snopes.com.

Claim:   Photograph shows a volcano in Indonesia that spews blue lava.


REAL PHOTOGRAPH; INACCURATE DESCRIPTION


Example:   [Collected via the Internet, February 2015]


There’s a volcano in Indonesia that spews blue lava:



 

Origins:   This image of an Indonesian volcano’s supposedly spewing a “blue lava” flow circulated widely via social media shortly after it was posted online by French photographer Olivier Grunewald in early 2014. Although the photograph is real (and taken without the aid of any filter or digital enhancement) and is similar to images taken by Grunewald of the Kawah Ijen volcano on Java in Indonesia,
this photo actually captures a hydrothermal vent in Ethiopia, and the amazing electric blue glow seen in this image (and others like it) is produced by the bright blue flames of burning sulfuric gases rather than lava.

As the phenomenon was explained in a Smithsonian article on the topic:


Little of the web coverage has enlightened readers on the scientific principles at work. “This blue glow, unusual for a volcano, isn’t the lava itself, as unfortunately can be read on many websites,” Grunewald says. “It is due to the combustion of sulfuric gases in contact with air at temperatures above 360°C.”

In other words, the lava — molten rock that emerges from the Earth at ultra-high temperatures — isn’t colored significantly differently than the lava at other volcanoes, which all differ slightly based on their mineral composition but appear a bright red or orange color in their molten state. But at Kawah Ijen, extremely high quantities of sulfuric gases emerge at high pressures and temperatures (sometimes in excess of 600°C) along with the lava.

Exposed to the oxygen present in air and sparked by lava, the sulfur burns readily, and its flames are bright blue. There’s so much sulfur, Grunewald says, that at times it flows down the rock face as it burns, making it seem as though blue lava is spilling down the mountainside. But because only the flames are blue, rather than the lava itself, the effect is only visible at night — during daytime, the volcano looks like roughly any other.

“The vision of these flames at night is strange and extraordinary,” Grunewald says. “After several nights in the crater, we felt really living on another planet.”


 

The image seen at the head of this page is was taken in Ethiopia’s Danakil depression. Grunewald snapped the following remarkable pictures of Indonesia’s
Kawah Ijen volcano while in the process shooting a documentary he planned to release with the president of Geneva’s Society for Volcanology, Régis Etienne (as seen here in a clip unfortunately titled “Blue Lava” on YouTube):

Other breathtaking shots taken by Grunewald at the same location include the following:



Last updated:   9 February 2015


Sources:




    Howard, Brian Clark.   “Stunning Electric-Blue Flames Erupt from Volcanoes.”

    National Geographic.   30 January 2014.

    Stromberg, Joseph.   “Why Does This Indonesian Volcano Burn Bright Blue?”

    Smithsonian.   4 February 2014.