Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano

Stratovolcano 2890 m
Tanzania, -2.75°S / 35.9°E
Current status: restless (2 out of 5)
Last update: 20 Aug 2019 (effusion of natrocarbonatite lava inside the pit crater in the northern main crater)
Erupting hornito at Lengai volcano
Erupting hornito at Lengai volcano

Ol Doinyo Lengai, a symmetrical, steep classical stratovolcano rises majestically about 2000m from the East Africal Rift Valley depression to a summit elevation of 2890 m. To the Maassai people, it is home of God, which is also the meaning of the name. Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only active volcano that erupts natrocarbonatite lava.

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Typical eruption style: Explosive activity. In addition, at least during the past +-30 years near-continuous effusion and mildly explosive eruption of natrocarbonatite lava from vents inside the crater, sometimes overflowing over the rim, is taking place.
Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano eruptions: 1550 BC (?), 50 AD (?), 700 AD (?), 1350 (?), 1880, 1882, 1904, 1907, 1914, 1916, 1921, 1926, 1940, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1960, 1967, 1983, 1994, 2006, 2007-ongoing

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Background

Ol Doinyo Lengai is an extremely fascinating volcano: it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava, a sensational discovery scientists made as recently as in the 1960s: the lavas it erupts are NOT melts based on silica, but on natroncarbonate!
Thus, the temperatures of these lavas are much lower, "only" about 600 deg. C., and Lengai's lava does not emit enough light to glow during day,- only at night, a dull reddish glow that does not illuminate anything is visible. Also because of its peculiar chemical composition, the lava is extremely fluid and behaves very much like water, with the exception that it is black like oil. After it is cooled down it quickly alters and becomes a whitish powder.

Geologically, the present-day cone of the volcano was constructed about 15,000 years ago. Historical eruptions have been moderate to small explosive events. In addition to its intermittent explosive activity at intervals of typically years or decades, numerous natrocarbonitite lava flows have been erupted from vents on the floor of the active summit crater.

The depth and morphology of the active (northern) crater have changed dramatically during the course of historical eruptions, ranging from steep craters walls about 200 m deep in the mid-20th century to shallow platforms mostly filling the crater. Long-term lava effusion in the summit crater beginning in 1983 had by the turn of the century mostly filled the northern crater; by late 1998 uptill today lava had begun overflowing the crater rim.

Ol Doinyo Lengai Photos

The majestic cone of Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano and the grassland at its feet seen from the NE. The tall hornito T49b in its active crater is well visible.
 (Photo: Tom Pfeiffer)
The majestic cone of Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano and the grassland at its feet seen from the NE. The tall hornito T49b in its active crater is well visible.
(Ph...
Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano seen from the Ngorongoro Highlands at Empakai crater. The tall hornito in its active crater (on the left side) just peaks out into view. (Photo: Tom Pfeiffer)
Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano seen from the Ngorongoro Highlands at Empakai crater. The tall hornito in its active crater (on the left side) just peaks out into view. (P...
Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano seen from Empakai crater. The tall hornito in its active crater (on the left side) just peaks out into view. (Photo: Tom Pfeiffer)
Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano seen from Empakai crater. The tall hornito in its active crater (on the left side) just peaks out into view. (Photo: Tom Pfeiffer)
The flat plain of the Rift Valley beneath Ol Doinyo Lengai, criss-crossed by erosion gullies. A small Maassai boma (=cluster of huts) in the right of the image.  (Photo: Tom Pfeiffer)
The flat plain of the Rift Valley beneath Ol Doinyo Lengai, criss-crossed by erosion gullies. A small Maassai boma (=cluster of huts) in the right of the image. (Photo: ...
 


Activity in 2010 - natrocarbonatite flows on the crater bootom
Similarly to previous phases, new natrocarbonatite lava is being erupted from vents at the bottom of the new crater. If this activity continues, it might once again fill the crater.

Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano tours:
The Garden of Eden (10-day trekking and wildlife safari to the Ngorongoro Highlands and the Rift Valley, Tanzania)

See also: Sentinel hub | Landsat 8
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Links and further info:

The Ol Doinyo Lengai web site / it.stlawu.edu/~cnya/
Celia Nyamweru’s Website - This is the most comprehensive website on the history of Ol Doinyo Lengai, by an expert on the Rift Valley.
OL DOINYO LENGAI - The Mountain of God / www.mtsu.edu/~fbelton/lengai.html
Fred Belton's extensive website dedicated to Lengai. Fred visits Lengai (almost) every year and comes back with lots of information and observation about the volcano's activity. Extensive News, other links, expedition infos, photos.
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