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Oldest description of a caldera-forming eruption in Southeast Asia unveiled in forgotten written sources

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As one of the most powerful volcanic events of the Holocene era with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of seven, the 1257 CE eruption of Samalas volcano in the Rinjani Volcanic Complex had large consequences for Lombok Island (Indonesia) and its surrounding area. This huge eruption with an enormous volume of ejected material (4435 ± 5.5 × 106 m3), was recorded in local written sources, called Babad, that were compiled around the sixteenth century and contain oral stories and myths. In this study, we present two written sources, namely Babad Lombok and Babad Suwung, which undoubtedly refer to the 1257 CE ultraplinian eruption of Samalas volcano. In addition to detailed analysis of the volcanic deposits, interviews with old Javanese linguists and museum employees were carried out to clarify the meanings of some words as well as the genesis of the Babads. The results from field observation and interviews were analyzed and compared with previous research. Babad Lombok describes the process of the Samalas eruption, the formation of the Segara Anak caldera, and the impacts of the voluminous ash fall and pyroclastic flows on Lombok Island. Meanwhile, Babad Suwung describes the impacts of the 1257 CE volcanic eruption on Talkuwang (Taliwang), on the western coast of Sumbawa Island. This description encompasses several volcanic processes including fallout and pyroclastic surges. The exegesis of Babad Lombok and Babad Suwung could be the oldest observations of a caldera-forming eruption in Southeast Asia. They also document the oldest pyroclastic surges in the world after those of Vesuvius as described by Pliny the Younger in 79 CE.

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Source: Vidal et al. (2015)

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The first author would like to acknowledge the LPDP (Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education) scholarship fund, awarded by the Republic of Indonesia’s Ministry of Finance, for its financial support. This paper has been written as part of a collaborative project between Universitas Gadjah Mada, University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences Research Centre for Geotechnology, and Universitas Mataram. Fieldwork was funded by the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne (AAP Politique Scientifique), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS—PICS no. 260868) and the Australian Research Council (Linkage Project LP150100649) led by Murdoch University. We also wish to thank L. Syafi’i and P. Guerin for participating in the fieldwork; and NDX Aka, G. Waton, and D. Kempot for their support and encouragement during the writing process. The authors also would like to thank anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper.

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BWM and FL designed the study and wrote the manuscript together.

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Correspondence to Bachtiar W. Mutaqin.

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Mutaqin, B.W., Lavigne, F. Oldest description of a caldera-forming eruption in Southeast Asia unveiled in forgotten written sources. GeoJournal 86, 557–566 (2021).

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