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June 1, 2009

Sulfur mining in Kawah Ijen

In East Java, Indonesia lies Kawah Ijen volcano, 2,600 meters tall (8,660ft), topped with a large caldera and a 200-meter-deep lake of sulfuric acid. The quietly active volcano emits gases through fumaroles inside the crater, and local miners have tapped those gases to earn a living. Stone and ceramic pipes cap the fumaroles, and inside, the sulfur condenses into a molten red liquid, dripping back down and solidifying into pure sulfur. Miners hack chunks off with steel bars, braving extremely dangerous gases and liquids with minimal protection, then load up as much as they can carry for the several kilometers to the weighing station. Loads can weigh from 45 to 90kg (100 - 200 lbs), and a single miner might make as many as two or three trips in a day. At the end of a long day, miners take home approximately Rp50,000 ($5.00 u.s.). The sulfur is then used for vulcanizing rubber, bleaching sugar and other industrial processes nearby. (22 photos total)

A traditional miner carries sulfur from the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 outside Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

The kilometer-wide, 200 meter deep acidic crater lake inside Ijen Crater is seen on May 24, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. The lake is filled with a solution of sulfuric acid and hydrogen chloride at a temperature of about 33 C (91 F). (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A worker repairs a sulfur pipe flow at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 outside Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner extracts sulfur from pipe at the flow crater at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. The molten sulfur emerges from the pipes colored deep red, and gradually turns a yellow shade as it cools and hardens. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Workers repair a sulfur pipe flow at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner extracts sulfur from pipe at the flow crater at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Seen through a spare segment of ceramic pipe, workers repair a larger sulfur pipe flow at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 outside Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Workers repair a sulfur pipe flow at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Detail of sulfur chunks mined within the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009, East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner extracts sulfur from a pipe in the crater at the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner carries sulfur from the Ijen volcano crater wall to his baskets on May 24, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A sulfur miner pauses during work in the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Loaded baskets of sulfur, ready to carry up the steep crater walls, then down to a weighing station, inside the crater of Kawah Ijen on May 24, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

Miners carry sulfur out of the Kawah Ijen crater on May 25, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner nears the top of the crater wall on a well-worn path on Kawah Ijen volcano on May 25, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

The physical toll of carrying the heavy load - up to 70kg (155 lbs) - is visible in the compressed skin and muscles of a miner's back as he carries a load of sulfur from the Ijen volcano complex on May 25, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner takes a break on the Ijen volcano complex on May 25, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner shows injuries and scarring sustained while carrying sulfur from the Ijen volcano, May 24, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner reaches the weigh station and weighs his sulfur load at the Ijen volcano complex on May 25, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images #

A traditional sulfur miner relaxes at base camp dubbed "Camp Sulfutara" on the Ijen volcano complex on May 24, 2009 in Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A miner relaxes inside Camp Sulfutara on May 24, 2009. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

A sulfur miner takes a cigarette break on the path to the Ijen volcano complex on May 25, 2009 in East Java, Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images) #

 
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