Natural disasters such as the December tsunami can have far-reaching effects on human history. For instance, the 1883 volcano eruption at Krakatoa was the first step in modern globalization, according to Simon Winchester, recipient of the 2002 AAPG Journalism Award for his book The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, who spoke recently at the University of Tulsa.
Winchester also authored Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, published by Simon and Schuster.
"The world got a whole lot smaller as a result of this event," Winchester said. "I often think of (Krakatoa) as being the first building block of the global village."
As a result of the previous establishment of the Reuters news service, the invention of Morse Code and, most importantly, the submarine telegraph cable, news of the eruption was received in Boston within four hours. Only 17 years earlier, news about Abraham Lincoln's assassination took 12 days to reach the entire world.
Winchester noted the effects of natural disasters on social events. The eruption was of such magnitude, he conjectured it caused the loudest sound recorded in history, being heard as far away as Australia, India and Sri Lanka.
The dust shot up 30 miles into the air from the explosion and colored the sunset. The dust shroud caused an accompanying drop in temperature of 1 degree Celsius, creating weather changes and the destruction of crops all over the world.
When Krakatoa sank it released steam as water rushed in to fill the hole created, which was "white hot."
The tsunami that followed the explosion, generated 10 miles from the shores of Java and 12 miles from Sumatra, killed 40,000 people.
Though the incident may resemble the earthquake that led to the Dec. 26 tsunami, Winchester said that the two events were unrelated. Each event was a result of movement by different tectonic plates.
"The subduction of the Australian plate under the Asian plate is what caused Krakatoa," Winchester said. "The collision between the India plate and the Burma micro-plate, which is to the North of Java is what caused the Sumatra earthquake."
Connections and Answers
Another result of the natural disaster at Krakatoa was a Muslim uprising against the West, Winchester said. There was already a strong movement to convert the majority Hindu population of Java to Islam prior to the eruption. The eruption event was interpreted and propogandized by Muslim evangelists as a sign of displeasure from Allah towards the Javanese for their subservience to the Dutch, he added.
"I'm not suggesting there's a direct link between Krakatoa and what happened, but it's certainly enough of a connection to be interesting, particularly when you consider what is going on in the world today," Winchester said.
Eventually the Dutch were forced to leave Indonesia, the most populous Islamic nation, Winchester said.
Though Krakatoa was destroyed, a "new" island (named Anak Krakatoa -- Javanese for "son of Krakatoa) resulting from a submarine volcano that started erupting in 1903 now exists where the old island was situated. Between the time that Winchester first saw the "new" Krakatoa island in 1975 and the last time in 1999, it had grown in height by 500 feet.
About the recent tsunami, Winchester pointed out that just like 1906 (San Francisco, earthquake and fire 3,000 dead; Colombia, earthquake, 1,000 dead; and Chile: earthquake 20,000 dead), 2004 was a very bad year for geological havoc. In both cases, massive events followed other geological events around the world, which suggests a correlation. He ended his lecture by referring to a geological butterfly effect implying that a large tectonic movement in one part of the world would affect another one.
"In 1965, we knew where all the world's volcanoes were, and we knew how big and how powerful they were for devastation. But we had no real idea as to why they were where they were," he said.
Thanks to geologists and application of ideas such as the 1966 plate tectonics theory we now have some answers to this question, Winchester said.