This week marks the 100th anniversary of Krakatau's 1883 eruption, perhaps the most famous volcanic event in recorded history. During a 23-hour period on August 26 and 27, 1883, more than 18 km3 of volcanic debris thundered upward from Krakatau, resulting in the death of more than 36,000 people and causing widespread devastation to the surrounding area. Moreover, the 1883 events at Krakatau caused geophysical phenomena that were observed around the world, making it (at least up until Mount St. Helens' 1980 eruption) the household word for a classic volcanic catastrophe.
One hundred years ago, Krakatau was a 5×9 km island in the Sunda Straits, between Java and Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies. It was a familiar landmark, both to the tens of thousands of nearby coastal residents and to the crews of thousands of ships from Europe and the Americas that passed through the Straits each year on their way to and from the far east. The volcano had last erupted in 1681 and was not regarded as a likely site for renewed and catastrophic activity.