Stunning photos show what the scenes of the Indonesian tsunami look like 10 years later

On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive undersea earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, sparking a massive tsunami that killed 230,000 people in fourteen countries and inundating coastal towns with waves up to 100 feet high. The Indian Ocean tsunami is considered one of the deadliest natural disasters in recent history.

A decade later, photographers have returned to Indonesia, Thailand and other countries to rephotograph some of the iconic scenes from the aftermath of the disaster, capturing both the devastation wrought by tsunami and the rebuilding efforts since.


Merry Christmas! Here’s a bunch of Asian nativities, courtesy of The Jesus Question.

Hanna Varghese
God Is With Us
Malaysia (2006)

A thangka (sacred wall hanging) given by H.H. the Dalai Lama to Fr. Laurence Freeman and the World Community for Christian Meditation
Tibet (1988)

Kristoffer Ardena
The Meaning of Christmas
Philippines (1995)

P. Solomon Raj
India (1980s)

Erland Sibuea
Indonesia (2008)

He Qi
China (1998)

Woonbo Kim Ki-chang
The Birth of Jesus Christ
South Korea (1952-53)

Sadao Watanabe
Japan (1960s)

Sawai Chinnawong
Thailand (2004)


Christmas Island

What would be a better place to spend your Christmas than on Christmas Island? Imagine yourself surrounded by tropical rainforest instead of pine trees and on a sandy white beach instead of covered in snow. Also known as Kiritmati, this raised coral atoll lies in the Indian Ocean about 230 km from the Indonesian Island of Java. The island got its name on Christmas Day 1643 when it was passed by the British ship Royal Mary. The first time the island was actually laid foot on (it was uninhabited) was around 1699. After phosphate was discovered in the late 1800s many Malay and Chinese workers arrived. Soon afterwards Britain annexed it. In the Second World War the Japanese tried to occupy the island, mainly due to the rich phosphate deposits. Nowadays Christmas Island is Australian Territory.

The most commonly (literally tens of millions!) encountered species on the atoll is the red crab. From October to December they begin a spectacular migration from the forest to the beach where they breed and spawn. A national park that covers 63% of the island protects these animals. Due to its isolated geographical location and the fact that the island was left undisturbed for a long time flora and fauna have a high level of endemism (you only find them on the island).

By the way, Christmas Island is also one of the best places in the world to celebrate the New Year; since it is the first place on earth to experience it (it has the farthest time zone of UTC +14)


Image: NASA Earth Observatory. Christmas Island as seen from the International Space Station.


Good article, good maps. Some reasons for optimism, for a change.

The article focuses on Costa Rica and Brazil, as success stories, and on Indonesia, as a success story in the making. What the article doesn’t do is focus on Canada and how Canada is destroying thousands of acres of boreal forests so that the oil companies get can at the tar sands goo. Or on Appalachia where forests are being leveled so coal companies can blow up the mountains to get to the coal. So, before we start acting “holier-than-thou” when we read about third-world countries, let’s first not forget how foolish we are.


In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests — saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow — is the single most promising near-term strategy.

That is because of the large role that forests play in what is called the carbon cycle of the planet. Trees pull the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, out of the air and lock the carbon away in their wood and in the soil beneath them. Destroying them, typically by burning, pumps much of the carbon back into the air, contributing to climate change.

Over time, humans have cut down or damaged at least three-quarters of the world’s forests, and that destruction has accounted for much of the excess carbon that is warming the planet.

But now, driven by a growing environmental movement in countries that are home to tropical forests, and by mounting pressure from Western consumers who care about sustainable practices, corporate and government leaders are making a fresh push to slow the cutting — and eventually to halt it. In addition, plans are being made by some of those same leaders to encourage forest regrowth on such a giant scale that it might actually pull a sizable fraction of human-released carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it into long-term storage.


See the BLUE glow of Indonesia’s volcano

While they look like scenes from a sci-fi movie, these pictures are actually taken from a volcano in East Java, Indonesia, when it started giving off molten sulfur.

The lava is usually orange-red in color, but the blue glow comes from flames produced when escaping sulfuric gases burn up inside the volcano in a heat of 600C, according to experts.

In order to take the pictures, photographer Keow Wee Loong had to wear a gas mask to deal with the toxic fumes, as he ventured inside the volcano’s grounds.

The volcano, known as the Ljen Crater, is located in East Java and is used by miners who rely on the sulfur for their livelihoods.

(Source: Daily Mail)

Traveling throughout Flores, Sumba, Lombok and Gili Islands for days of underwater exploration, basking in the warm island sun, and reveling in the pristine natural surroundings.

In short, I can’t wait!

Proud Indonesian


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Homo erectus: The world’s oldest artist

After the recent discovery of the first confirmed Neanderthal art (seehttp://tinyurl.com/q3mudsx and http://tinyurl.com/lycavqd) and the new understanding that paintings in Indonesia are as old as any in Europe (see http://tinyurl.com/mmmjtqq), another stunner has emerged from the mists of time to upset our beliefs on the origins of art, in the form of a carved doodle on a pierced freshwater mussel shell dating from the days of our ancestor/cousin Homo erectus some 430,000-540,000 years ago.

As so often happens, the crucial piece was found lurking in a museum drawer, gathered on the Indonesian island of Java a century ago by Eugene Dubois, the initial discoverer of Java man (as erectus was known at the time) and traced via an intriguing digital photograph. The discoverer snapped a whole collection of shells from the initial excavation at its home museum in Holland and noticed these intriguing zig-zag marks that had been gathering dust for a century. It had not been noticed on the initial examination in 1930 because the marks are faint and only came out in the glancing light used to take the photos.

Reported in Nature this week, it is the earliest evidence of manmade markings found to date (the next oldest being a 100,000 year old piece of engraved red ochre from South Africa). The shell was dated (using the sand grains embedded within) and the carving was carefully checked, revealing that the markings were intentionally made before fossilisation. When the engraving was made, it would have been more visible because the shell was darker. Weathering wore away the original dark color of the shell. 

So are these half-million year old scratches art, or something else? Although the engravings were deliberately created with close attention to detail, it is impossible to say with certainty that it is “art.” Its purpose and meaning are currently unknown, but it implies both manual dexterity and some sort of inner impulse and cognitive capacity, a far cry from the brutish ancestors little removed from monkeys depicted until very recent times. Attempts to duplicate it revealed how intentional it had to be, and the precision of the maker’s hand. They also discovered a neat trick, that the mussels were opened using fossil shark’s teeth to avoid breaking the shell and filling the meat with crunchy crumbs of shell.

The likely culprits first emerged in Africa some 2 million years back and made it at least as far as Java, before speciating in turn into branches on the bush that we label modern humans, Denisovans and Neanderthal. The last Homo erectus remains are a mere hundred thousand years old.

I often return to the theme that our cousins back in the distant past shared more of our humanity than we care to admit, as do our existing (and endangered) living cousins such as chimps, gorillas and orang utans. Here is another piece of evidence showing that consciousness goes back a long way, and is not restricted to modern humanity as some illusory pinnacle of evolution. Abstract thought has been with us for much longer than we imagined, and I always wonder what it was like to live in one of their heads, what flavour thoughts and perceptions they had (for one, a much keener sense of smell).

I also always wonder what surprise museum collections will turn up next. One often ignored use of gathering these things under one roof with a clearly documented provenance is that one never knows what new and wonderful knowledge the future will be able to obtain from the collection, whether by taking a closer look or through advances in analytical technology. 

Loz & JB

Image credit: Naturalis, Leiden: Stephen Munro
Original paper, http://www.nature.com/articles/nature13962.epdf