Oscars 2023 | The tragic story of a couple of scientists in love with volcanoes and their sad ending

The last photo of the couple: Katia and Maurice Krafft.

In 1985, an episode marked the life of the couple of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. The eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, in Colombia, left more than 23,000 deadin one of the greatest tragedies caused by volcanoes in history.

The city of Armero was completely buried and literally ceased to exist after the eruption had melted the mountain’s glaciers, generating so-called lahars: an avalanche of mud, earth, and volcanic debris.

At that time, volcano specialists tried to warn the authorities about the risks of the imminent eruption and the need to evacuate the cities, but they were not listened to.

Maurice and Katia, who had already gained worldwide fame for “hunting” and recording volcanoes on every continent, echoed the warning. But it wasn’t enough either.

“We were ashamed to call ourselves volcanologists,” Katia said in interviews at the time.

My dream is that volcanoes stop killingMauricio stated.

Shocked by the tragedy, the couple decided they needed to do more than they already had; that is, to closely record the threatening volcanic activity to demonstrate the destructive power and convince the authorities about the risks.

In June 1991, they traveled to Japan to record the force of the eruption of Mount Unzen.

In the last images in which they appear alive, Katia and Maurice look at the mountain, next to the camera. They died minutes later, he at 45, she at 49. The bodies were found next to each other.

“We all knew they were going to die in a volcano, and they knew it themselves,” Brazilian Rosaly Lopes, a NASA astronomer and volcanologist who met the couple at conferences and events, told BBC News Brazil.

The two, Lopes noted, were treated like stars in the world of volcanology.

Katia and Maurice KrafftKatia and Maurice Krafft

Katia and Maurice Krafft

The impressive images that the Kraffts recorded over decades of work are in the documentary that this Sunday compete for an Oscar Fire of Love (translated into Spanish in some countries as “Volcanoes: the tragedy of Katia and Maurice Krafft”).

In Latin America it is possible to see the production directed by Sara Dosa on the Disney+ streaming service.

love for fire

Katia and Maurice met in 1966, when they were attending the University of Strasbourg, France. She, geochemist; the geologist. But they soon discovered a common interest: volcanoes.

“We started in volcanology because we were disappointed in humanity. And, since a volcano is bigger than men, we felt that it was what we needed. Something beyond human comprehension,” Maurice said in an interview shown in the documentary.

He was considered more “media” than Katia.

It was a post-war period, with great scientific advances. Plate tectonics were discovered in 1967, allowing us to understand mysteries of nature such as earthquakes and the formation of volcanoes.

In Iceland, In 1968, the Kraffts had their first experience exploring volcanoes together.. From there, they began recording the eruptions on video and photos, which would end up becoming a source of income for the couple, who spent their lives traveling.

“When you see an eruption, you can’t live without it, because it’s so big, so strong, that you have a feeling of insignificance,” Katia explained. Two years later, they got married and chose not to have children.

“They couldn’t do what they did if it wasn’t for each other. They had a relationship between the two of them, and between them and the volcanoes,” says volcanologist Rosaly Lopes.

a lava explosiona lava explosion

a lava explosion

In addition to selling part of the audiovisual material, Katia and Maurice filmed all the expeditions with the intention of reviewing the eruptions and studying them.. And they began to want to get closer and closer.

For Rosaly Lopes, the couple, although not noted for their academic production, left a great scientific and human legacy.

They filmed images around the world showing lava, explosions, and pyroclastic flows (the mixture of gas, volcanic matter, ash, and rock fragments ejected in eruptions) and researchers have used them to understand and model the behavior of volcanoes.

The two also brought back “young” material ejected in the eruptions for studies in geophysical laboratories.

Katia KrafftKatia Krafft

Katia Krafft

“But I think that the main legacy is education, to teach that volcanoes are very beautiful, but dangerous. And also that, sometimes, you can go to a volcano, near the lava, without taking too much risk,” says Lopes, who wrote a book about the possibilities of tourism in areas with volcanic activity.

reds and grays

Katia and Maurice adopted two volcano classifications.

The “reds” would be those in which there are “rivers” of lava and without strong explosions. It was these, less dangerous, that the Kraffts initially set out to explore.

The “greys” were explosives, which build up pressure and heat until their catastrophic release.. They were the so-called “assassins”, less known and more difficult to access.

After the eruption of the “grey” volcano of Mount Santa Elena, in the United States, which left 57 dead in 1980, the couple decided to change the focus of their expeditions to the most risky ones.

They went after eruptions in Alaska (United States), Indonesia and Colombia, where they recorded the trail of destruction from the tragedy in Armero.

In June 1991, they received word that Mount Unzen in Japan was about to erupt. They traveled to the country and went to fulfill another mission, the last one.

At that moment, Katia and Maurice decided to keep a safe distance from other scientists, journalists and firefighters. But a much stronger than expected pyroclastic flow killed 43 peopleincluding the couple.

The marks on the ground after the tragedy indicated that Katia and Maurice were close to each other.

In the images shown in the documentary, a text is mentioned in which Maurice wrote that he preferred an “intense and short life to a long and monotonous one”, justifying his volcano hunting. And Katia, at one point, said: “If I have to die, I prefer to go with him.”


NASA detected “unusual circles” on Mars.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.