The geography of Indonesia is dominated by volcanoes that are formed due to subduction zones between the Eurasian plate and the Indo-Australian plate. Some of the volcanoes are notable for their eruptions, for instance, Krakatau for its global effects in 1883, Lake Toba for its supervolcanic eruption estimated to have occurred 74,000 Before Present which was responsible for six years of volcanic winter, and Mount Tambora for the most violent eruption in recorded history in 1815.
The Ijen volcano complex is a group of stratovolcanoes inside a larger caldera Ijen, which is about 20 kilometers wide. The Gunung Merapi stratovolcano (not to be confused with Central Java's Gunung Merapi) is the highest point of that complex. West of Gunung Merapi is the Ijen volcano, 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 largest concentration of post-caldera cones forms an E-W-trending zone across the southern side of the caldera. The active crater at Kawah Ijen has an equivalent radius of 361 meters, a surface of 41 × 106 square meters. It is 200 meters deep and has a volume of 36 × 106 cubic meters.
Sulfur mining at Ijen
An active vent at the edge of the lake is a source of elemental sulfur, and supports a 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 cooled material is broken into large pieces and carried out in baskets by the miners. Typical loads range from 70–100 kilograms, and must be carried to the crater rim approximately 200 meters above before being carried several kilometers down the mountain. Most miners make this journey twice a day.
The miners are paid by a nearby sugar refinery by the weight of sulfur transported; as of July 2005 the typical daily earnings were equivalent to approximately $5.00 US. The miners often use insufficient protection while working around the volcano and are susceptible to numerous respiratory complaints. Their life expectancy is only about 30 years.
Ijen and its sulfur mining was featured as a topic on the 5th episode of the BBC television documentary Human Planet. In the documentary film War Photographer, journalist James Nachtwey visits Ijen and struggles with noxious fumes while trying to photograph workers. Michael Glawogger film Workingman's Death is about sulfur workers.