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Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia, with a maximum dimension

from east to west of about 3,200 miles (5,100 km) and an extent from north to
south of 1,100 miles (1,800 km). It shares a border with Malaysia in the
northern part of Borneo and with Papua New Guinea in the centre of New
Guinea. Indonesia is composed of some 17,500 islands, of which more than
7,000 are uninhabited. Almost three-fourths of Indonesia’s area is embraced
by Sumatra, Kalimantan, and western New Guinea; Celebes, Java, and
the Moluccas account for most of the country’s remaining area.
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The major Indonesian islands are characterized by densely forested volcanic

mountains in the interior that slope downward to coastal plains covered by
thick alluvial swamps that, in turn, dissolve into shallow seas and coral reefs.
Beneath this surface the unique and complex physical structure of Indonesia
encompasses the junction of three major sections of the Earth’s crust and
involves a complicated series of shelves, volcanic mountain chains, and deep-
sea trenches. The island of Borneo and the island arc that includes Sumatra,
Java, Bali, and the Lesser Sunda chain sit on the Sunda Shelf, a southward
extension of the continental mass of Asia. The shelf is bounded on the south
and west by deep-sea trenches, such as the Java Trench (about 24,440 feet
[7,450 metres] deep at its lowest point), which form the true continental
boundary. New Guinea and its adjacent islands, possibly including the island
of Halmahera, sit on the Sahul Shelf, which is a northwestern extension of the
Australian continental mass; the shelf is bounded to the northeast by a series
of oceanic troughs and to the northwest by troughs, a chain of coral reefs, and
a series of submarine ridges. The third major unit of the Earth’s crust in
Indonesia is an extension of the belt of mountains that forms Japan and
the Philippines; the mountains run southward between Borneo and New
Guinea and include a series of volcanoes and deep-sea trenches on and
around Celebes and the Moluccas.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The relation between these three landmasses is not clearly understood. The
present land-sea formations are somewhat misleading because the seas that
lie on the Sunda and Sahul shelves are shallow and of geologically recent
origin; they rest on the continental mass rather than on a true ocean floor. The
Sunda Shelf in the vicinity of the Java Sea has relatively low relief, contains
several coral reefs, and is not volcanic. The mountain system that stretches
along the South China and Celebes seas of this shelf and that marks the outer
edge of the continental mass of Asia, however, is an area of strong relief and
is one of the most active volcanic zones in the world.
The outer (southern) side of the chain of islands from Sumatra through Java
and the Lesser Sundas forms the leading edge of the Southeast Asian
landmass. It is characterized by active volcanoes, bounded to the south and
west by a series of deep-sea trenches. On the inner (northern) side of the
islands the volcanic mountains grade into swamps, lowlands, and the shallow
Java Sea. This sheltered sea was formed at the close of the Pleistocene
Epoch (about 12,000 years ago), and there is evidence of former land bridges,
which facilitated the migration of plants and animals from the Asian continent.

Mount Agung volcano overlooking rice paddies in northeastern Bali, Indonesia. ©George Love/Photo


flag of Indonesia

National anthem of Indonesia


Republik Indonesia (Republic of Indonesia)


multiparty republic with two legislative houses (Regional Representative Council 1 [132];
House of Representatives [560])

President: Joko Widodo




rupiah (Rp)

1 USD equals 13650.462 Indonesian rupiah


(2019 est.) 271,056,000


(2018) 4




(2018) 361

(2018) 139.4

Urban: (2018) 55.3%

Rural: (2018) 44.7%

Male: (2017) 70.4 years

Female: (2017) 75.7 years

Male: (2016) 97.2%

Female: (2016) 93.6%
GNI (U.S.$ ’000,000)

(2017) 934,965

(2017) 3,540
 1
Has limited legislative authority.

Islands of the Sunda Shelf

Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the main island on
the Sunda Shelf. Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in the Southeast Asian
archipelago, is not actually in Indonesia. It rises to 13,455 feet (4,101 metres)
in the northeastern corner of the island, in the Malaysian state of Sabah.
Otherwise, the island’s relief seldom exceeds an elevation of 5,600 feet (1,700
metres), and most of the island lies below 1,000 feet (300 metres). Structural
trends are not as well-defined as on adjacent islands, although a broad
mountain system (which includes Mount Kinabalu) runs roughly from
northeast to southwest. Kalimantan, which constitutes about three-fourths of
the island, consists mostly of undulating lowlands, with alluvial swamps near
the coast and forest-covered mountains in the deep interior.
The Riau archipelago lies to the east of Sumatra, near the southern outlet of
the Strait of Malacca. These islands have a granite core and can be
considered a physical extension of the Malay Peninsula. With the exception of
some highlands in the western and southern regions, the islands of
the Riau group generally consist of low-lying swampy terrain.
Sumatra spans the Equator, stretching from northwest to southeast for more
than 1,000 miles (1,600 km), with a maximum width (including offshore
islands) of some 325 miles (525 km). It is flanked on its outer (western) edge
by a string of nonvolcanic islands, including Simeulue, Nias, and
the Mentawai group, none of which is densely populated. The Sumatran
mainland divides into four main physical regions: the narrow coastal plain
along the west; the Barisan Mountains, which extend the length of the island
close to its western edge and include a number of active volcanoes; an inner
nonvolcanic zone of low hills grading down toward the stable platform of the
Asian mainland; and the broad alluvial lowland, lying no more than 100 feet
(30 metres) above sea level, that constitutes the eastern half of the island.
Much of the eastern lowland is a swampy forest that is difficult to penetrate.
Java is some 660 miles (1,060 km) long and has a maximum width of about
125 miles (200 km). Its physical divisions are not as distinct as those of
Sumatra, because the continental shelf drops sharply to the Indian Ocean in
the southern part of the island. Java can be divided into five latitudinal
physiographic regions. The first region, a series of limestone platforms,
extends along the southern coast; in some areas the platforms form an
eroded karst region (i.e., marked by sinks interspersed with abrupt ridges,
irregular rocks, caverns, and underground streams) that makes travel and
habitation difficult. A mountain belt just to the north, in the western segment of
the island, forms the second region; it is partially composed of sediments
derived from eroded volcanoes and includes a number of
heavily cultivated alluvial basins, especially around the cities of Bandung and
Garut. The belt of volcanoes that runs through the centre of the island
constitutes the third region; it contains some 50 active cones and nearly 20
volcanoes that have erupted since the turn of the 20th century. A northern
alluvial belt, the fourth region, spreads across the Sunda Shelf toward the sea
and is extended by delta formations, particularly during volcanic activity. There
are deep inland extensions of this alluvial region, which in central Java cut
through to the southern coast. Finally, there is a second limestone platform
area along the northern coast of Madura (an island off the northeastern coast
of Java) and the adjacent section of eastern Java.
The many islands of the Lesser Sundas to the east of Java are much smaller,
less densely populated, and less developed than Java. The physiography
of Bali and Lombok is similar to that of eastern Java. The Lesser Sunda
Islands continue through Sumbawa and Flores, narrowing progressively until
they appear on a map as a spine of volcanic islands that loops northeast into
the Banda Islands. The same volcanic system reappears in
northern Celebes. Sumba and Timor form an outer (southern) fringe of
nonvolcanic islands that resembles the chain off the western edge of the
Sunda Shelf near Sumatra.
Islands of the Sahul Shelf
The islands of the Sahul Shelf appear to have a physiographic structure
similar to those of the Sunda Shelf. They include the
northern Moluccas and New Guinea. The western portion of New Guinea
consists of the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua (Papua
Barat), which together account for more than one-fifth of the total area of
Indonesia but are home to only a tiny percentage of the country’s population.
The two provinces cover a remote region with a spectacular and varied
landscape. Mangrove swamps seal much of the southern and western
coastline, while the Maoke Mountains—including Jaya Peak, which at 16,024
feet (4,884 metres) is the highest point in Indonesia—form a natural barrier
across the central area. There is a narrow coastal plain in the north. Much of
the region is heavily forested.

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Celebes and the Moluccas
Celebes shows some evidence of being squeezed between the conflicting
forces of the more stable surrounding masses of the Sunda and Sahul
shelves. Its complex shape somewhat resembles a capital K, with an
extremely long peninsula running northeast from its north-south backbone.
There are, therefore, three large gulfs: Tomini (or Gorontalo) to the north, Tolo
to the east, and Bone to the south. The coastline is long in relation to the size
of the island. The land consists of ranges of mountains cut by deep rift valleys,
many of which contain lakes. The island is fringed by coral reefs and is
bordered by oceanic troughs in the south. Its northeastern arm,
the Minahasa Peninsula, is volcanic and structurally different from the rest of
the island, which is composed of a complex of igneous and metamorphic
The Moluccas consist of a group of roughly 1,000 islands with a combined
area that is about two-thirds the size of Java. Halmahera Island is the largest
of the group, followed by Ceram and Buru. The Moluccas lie in the same
geologically unstable zone as Celebes, although the northern islands are
associated more with the Sahul Shelf. Halmahera Island, in the north, is
volcanic, as are the islands of the Banda Sea, which are frequently rocked by
earthquakes. Most of the northern and central Moluccas have dense
vegetation and rugged mountainous interiors where elevations often exceed
3,000 feet (900 metres). Once commonly known as the “Spice Islands,” the
Moluccas—especially Ternate, Tidore, Ambon, and Banda Besar—were a
source of cloves, nutmeg, and mace, particularly during the 16th and 17th
There are over 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia and hundreds more that are
considered extinct. They run in a crescent-shaped line along the outer margin
of the country, through Sumatra and Java as far as Flores, then north through
the Banda Sea to a junction with the volcanoes of northern Celebes. Volcanic
eruptions are by no means uncommon. Mount Merapi, which rises to 9,551
feet (2,911 metres) near Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta) in central Java, erupts
frequently—often causing extensive destruction to roads, fields, and villages
but always greatly benefiting the soil. Mount Kelud (5,679 feet [1,731 metres]),
near Kediri in eastern Java, can be particularly devastating, because the
water in its large crater lake is thrown out during eruption, causing great
mudflows that rush down into the plains and sweep away all that is before
Mount MerapiEruption of Mount Merapi, Central Java, Indonesia, May 2006. © Weda—

Perhaps the best-known volcano is Krakatoa (Krakatau), situated in

the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java, which erupted disastrously in
1883. All life on the surrounding island group was destroyed. The eruptions
caused tidal waves throughout Southeast Asia, killing tens of thousands of
people, and ash clouds that circled the Earth decreased solar radiation and
produced spectacular sunsets for more than a year. Another major incident
occurred in 1963, when Mount Agung on Bali erupted violently after having
been dormant for more than 140 years. In 2006 the drilling of an exploratory
petroleum well triggered the eruption of an unusual mud volcano in a heavily
populated region of eastern Java. Hot mud flowed voluminously from the well
for the next several years, ultimately engulfing dozens of villages, obstructing
roads and railways, and displacing tens of thousands of residents. In
2010 Mount Sinabung, in northern Sumatra, erupted after more than 400
years of dormancy, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate their homes.