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Erta Ale (Ethiopia): summit lava lake revives as activity at flank eruption site slows down

Fri, 12 Oct 2018, 08:28
08:28 AM | IS
Daytime view of the active lava lake is often obscured by strong degassing (image: Enku Mulugetu, September 2018)
Daytime view of the active lava lake is often obscured by strong degassing (image: Enku Mulugetu, September 2018)
Night-time surface of the lava lake observed when the volcanic gasses temporarily cleared up (image: Stefan Tommasini, January 2018)
Night-time surface of the lava lake observed when the volcanic gasses temporarily cleared up (image: Stefan Tommasini, January 2018)
Wide angle view of the partially collapsed south crater with the lava lake’s surface at the northern end (image: Stefan Tommasini, January 2018)
Wide angle view of the partially collapsed south crater with the lava lake’s surface at the northern end (image: Stefan Tommasini, January 2018)
This diagram of the radiative power measured over time at Erta Ale by satellites shows that the volcano is currently again in a more active phase (Mirova, 11 October 2018 - http://www.mirovaweb.it/)
This diagram of the radiative power measured over time at Erta Ale by satellites shows that the volcano is currently again in a more active phase (Mirova, 11 October 2018 - http://www.mirovaweb.it/)
Our Ethiopian expedition organiser Enku made a reconnaissance trip to Erta Ale in September and reported the current status of this continuously changing active volcano. It appears that over summer the lava lake in the summit crater slowly rose and remains very active, but that the fissure eruption at the volcano's south flank (which started during the dramatic change of volcanic activity mid January 2017) slowed down.

The lava lake of Erta Ale's summit caldera is currently at some 75 m below the rim of the south crater, a large circular pit with dimensions of about 230 by 230 m. The lava lake is thereby occupying the northern part of this active crater and strongly degassing, making daytime observations more difficult. However, from sunset throughout the night-time the volcanic gasses periodically clear up so that one can have a clear view onto surface of the active lava lake and observe its constant movement. The thin black surface of the lava lake thereby shows red-hot cracks where liquid lava wells up, pushing the crust sideways and even overflowing and recycling it. Sometimes gasses well up in the liquid lava below the surface and break through it, exploding in large bubbles of lava. The movement of the spreading lava lake crust is steady and strong degassing alternated with clearing up of the view occurs in cycles.


Meanwhile the recent fissure eruption located about 4 km south of the volcano's summit seems to be slowing down after 18 months of vigorous activity. This means that Erta Ale's main activity is once again concentrating on the summit caldera where the lava lake in the south crater is slowly but surely reviving. If this trend continues, we can expect that over the next few months the lava lake will gradually rise, covering more of the bottom of the south pit and becoming better visible as the volcanic gasses can escape more easily.

Depending on how large the magma input below the volcano is, the lava lake may recover relatively fast from its drainage and partial collapse in January 2017 and once again overflow onto the floor of the large summit caldera within a (few) year(s). Although the sudden emptying of the summit lava lake upon the opening of the south flank fissure eruption was an event not previously reported at Erta Ale, the rising and falling of the lava lake's surface with many tens of meters and periodic overflows onto the caldera flow were standard observations throughout the past 2 decades. We should not forget that Erta Ale, like any other active volcano, is constantly changing and its eruptive activity merely the surface expression of the amount of magma rising up from deep below. Volcanoes built up over tens and hundreds of thousands of years, making the decades, or sometimes even centuries, that we observe and document their activity mere moments in their long life.

Those fascinated to experience this volcano's heartbeat at first hand are invited to check out our Danakil volcano adventures. We have 20 years of expertise in organising expeditions to this unique volcanic region and plan multiple days to explore both Erta Ale's summit caldera with the active lava lake and the new fissure eruption site!

Previous news

Wed, 25 Jul 2018, 15:54

Erta Ale (Ethiopia) : activity continues both at the summit and the 2017 flank eruption site

The lava lake inside the Southern Crater of Erta Ale’s summit caldera, shown here on 26 June 2018, is slowly rising and growing (image: Rebecca Wu)
Danakil expedition organiser Enku reports after our recent tour to this Ethiopian shield volcano that activity continues both at Erta Ale's summit caldera and the fissure eruption site on its SE flank with sustained lava lakes. ... Read all
Tue, 17 Jul 2018, 16:50

Danakil Depression (Ethiopia): Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea increases safety of volcano expeditions

Observing the nighttime glow of Erta Ale's active lava lake
Although visitor numbers increased significantly over the past years, the active lava lake of Erta Ale volcano and unique colourful scenery of Dallol's hydrothermal fields remained more risky travel destinations due to their proximity to Ethiopia's border with Eritrea. The decades long violent conflict between the two countries included the killing of 5 and kidnapping of 2 tourists visiting Erta Ale in January 2012. Following this deadly incident new safety measures involved military presence at all times on Erta Ale's summit as well as armed Afar escorts for anyone traveling in these parts of the Danakil depression. Increased security made adventure travellers return to this one-off destination which recently saw a large increase in visitors as well as documentary coverage. The region will undoubtedly become even more popular now that the 8 July 2018 peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea unexpectedly made an end to one of Africa's longest running conflicts. ... Read all
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Erta Ale volcano
Shield volcano 613 m / 2,011 ft
Danakil depression, Ethiopia, 13.6°N / 40.66°E
Current status: erupting (4 out of 5) Erta Ale volcano eruptions:
1873(?), 1903(?), 1904(?), 1906, 1940, 1960, 1967-2004, 2005-ongoing
Typical eruption style
Effusive. Persistant lava lake.

Erta Ale volcano tours

Danakil desert (Ethiopia)
Desert, salt and volcanoes
14 days expedition to Erta Ale volcano and Dallol hydrothermal field (Danakil desert, Ethiopia)
14 days / 13 nights - Moderate
Price $ 4530
no scheduled dates at present
Danakil desert (Ethiopia)
Erta Ale Volcano Special
in response to recent high activitiy in the Southern crater and growing lava lake (Danakil desert, Ethiopia)
8 days - Moderate
Price $ 2590
Custom and group dates
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