Unfortunately, what you read on many websites and see on YouTube are not always right regarding the French photographer Olivier Grunewald’s photos of Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen volcano. The web has gone crazy with speculation using the images.
The color of lava differs slightly, which is determined by its mineral composition, but most lava appears a bright red or orange color in its molten state depending on its temperature. So the lava (molten rock) that is emerging from this volcano is not any different to any other lava. It is the fact that there is an extremely high quantity of sulfuric gases under high pressure and at high temperatures that is burning on top of the lava that gives it that blue look.
With the sulfur exposed to oxygen and the lava providing the heat, the sulfur burns, giving off a blue color.
Because it is not the lava that is blue, the effect only happens at night when you can see the flames. During the day, Kawah Ijen looks like any other volcano.
The photographer, Olivier Grunewald, said: “The main problem was the acidic gases that whirled constantly in the crater, and the night seriously increased the difficulty as well, because it became almost impossible to see when dense gases arrived at times; we were stuck in gas plumes for over an hour without being able to see our hands,” according to smithsonian.com.
He also said: “During my first trip, I lost a camera and two lenses that had been corroded by acid after we got back home; it took up to three weeks for our skin to lose the smell of sulfur.”
Grunewald’s photos are beautiful and dramatic, and I would love to go there and take my own photos. But the health hazards, even with the proper safety gear, are just too great for me.