The only thing that’s come close since was the Tonga eruption in 2022. Image credit: Deni Sugandi /

On August 27, 1883, at 10:02 am, a tsunami that was as far away as South Africa caused a tsunami that caused an island in Indonesia to fall. It commemorates the historical moment when the notorious Krakatoa volcano erupted, beginning what is regarded as the loudest sound ever.

In the past, Indonesia’s Krakatoa stood halfway between Java and Sumatra. A small, uninhabited volcanic island, it climbed to 838 meters (2,750 feet) above sea level. It was last thought to have been active in 1680, but rumblings started in 1883. According to the Natural History Museum, the eruption in August released energy equivalent to a 200-megatonne bomb, and it significantly affected both people and the environment.

The Tambora eruption in 1815 took at least 60,000 lives, making Krakatoa (36,000) the second most deadly eruption in modern history in terms of fatalities. The blast featured a significant change in air pressure, which is audible at certain frequencies.

On that fatal day, a gasworks barometer measurement revealed the eruption generated a drum-busting 172 decibels of sound at 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Krakatoa. Nautilus claims that the human pain level is 130 decibels, and every additional 10 decibels is perceived as a doubling of noise.


Anyone 160 kilometers away from Krakatoa would have a bad time on August 27, 1883, given that a jackhammer allegedly has a decibel rating of only 100. Things would become very dangerous if they were any closer.

loudest sound ever

The Tonga eruption was the loudest sound since Krakatoa, which happened 139 years earlier. Image credit: Japan Meteorological Agency, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nearer to the eruption site, the loudest sound ever reached 194 decibels (the loudest sound conceivable in the air). At that point, the audible sound turned into a pressurized burst of air that tore open the eardrums of sailors on a ship that was only 64 kilometers (40 miles) from the island.

“So violent are the explosions that the eardrums of over half my crew have been shattered,” Discover reports in the captain’s journal of the British ship Norham Castle read. “My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the Day of Judgement has come.”

The same shockwave kept moving across the globe, getting quieter the further it went, but it took some time for it to stop. According to Brüel & Kjaer, it was still audible at 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) from Krakatoa, sounding like cannon fire.

The pressure wave would continue to travel three times around the world in each direction, with additional pressure spikes occasionally caused by shockwaves colliding with one another on different parts of the earth. The loudest sound ever ended when “the great air wave,” as it came to be known, stopped moving around the globe after dropping below the threshold for human hearing.

The Tonga eruption in 2022, whose sonic boom was audible in Alaska, 6,200 kilometers (3,850 miles) distant, is thought to have produced the loudest sound since Krakatoa. In addition, Tonga caused tsunamis and sound waves that tore across the globe, with one pressure wave reaching an altitude of 450 kilometers (280 miles) and traveling at a speed of over 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) per hour higher than the orbit of the International Space Station.

Let’s hope Krakatoa maintains its record status for many generations to come.

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