Erta Ale volcano (Ethiopia): overflowing lava lake 16-19 Jan 2017

Paul Reichert who took part in one of our latest Volcano Specials in January 2017 was lucky to witness one of Erta Ale volcano's most spectacular and intense eruptive phases in decades.
A surge of magma from depth (probably a small rifting episode) caused the lava lake in the southern pit crater of the caldera to overflow, build up a broad shield, before it collapsed, following the draining of the lake through a system of flank fissures 2-4 km downhill from 21 Jan - a mere day after Paul and his group had left.
The following is a selection of pictures of Paul, in approximate chronological order and annotated using the valuable field reports by Richard and our geologist expedition leader Enku who, along with Paul, were lucky enough to see this once-in-a-lifetime event. A big thank you goes to all of the three for sharing their information and images!
Watch the videos: 16 Jan | 17 Jan | 18-19 Jan
The center of the less active northern pit crater with remnants of two large hornitos surrounded by fresh lava flows. This crater collapsed shortly after our group had left. (16 Jan) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
The center of the less active northern pit crater with remnants of two large hornitos surrounded by ... [info]
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First view of the lava lake in the south crater in the early morning of 16 Jan: the lava lake stands at its rim, ready to flow over... "We approached as close as 4m from the lava lake edge just observing a lava surface waving (30cm in amplitude)" (Richard). 
Approaching the rim of the lava lake was extremely difficult due to the intense heat and the need to walk on barely hardened fresh shelly pahoehoe with thin crusts that often ´gives in when stepped on. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
First view of the lava lake in the south crater in the early morning of 16 Jan: the lava lake stands... [info]
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Formation of Pele's hair - thin glassy filaments of lava as molten spatter is ejected and torn into threads by exploding gas bubbles from the lava lake. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Formation of Pele's hair - thin glassy filaments of lava as molten spatter is ejected and torn into ... [info]
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Lava turtle (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Lava turtle (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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Exploding lava bubble (16 Jan). "Lava waves were hitting the edge of the lake creating small fountains (1-2 m of height)." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Exploding lava bubble (16 Jan). "Lava waves were hitting the edge of the lake creating small fountai... [info]
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Lava bubble explosion from close, showing the formation of Pele's Hair. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Lava bubble explosion from close, showing the formation of Pele's Hair. (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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"A vigorous overflow of the western rim started at 10:30 am (16 Jan) and produced a flood of lava that went in the southwestern direction." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"A vigorous overflow of the western rim started at 10:30 am (16 Jan) and produced a flood of lava th... [info]
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Lava was moving at several meters per second speed. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Lava was moving at several meters per second speed. (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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Further away, the flow front slowed down, forming shelly, thin-crusted silvery pahoehoe lava twisted and folded into abstract shapes, nature being the greatest artist of all. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Further away, the flow front slowed down, forming shelly, thin-crusted silvery pahoehoe lava twisted... [info]
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More and more lava starts to overflow the western rim of the perched lava lake (16 Jan late morning). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
More and more lava starts to overflow the western rim of the perched lava lake (16 Jan late morning)... [info]
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A small spatter rampart at the southern end of the lava lake's rim remains one of the only parts of the rim that is not being overflown by lava... (16 Jan). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
A small spatter rampart at the southern end of the lava lake's rim remains one of the only parts of ... [info]
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Rivers of lava meandering on the caldera floor. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Rivers of lava meandering on the caldera floor. (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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(16 Jan) "The activity continued progressively from both sides of the rim and at about 4 pm in the afternoon both the fountaining and overflow reached a climax and covered the surface of the whole caldera with an average speed of 50 km/hour." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
(16 Jan) "The activity continued progressively from both sides of the rim and at about 4 pm in the a... [info]
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Evening light on the eastern caldera wall (background) and a channeled lava flow towards the west (evening 16 Jan). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Evening light on the eastern caldera wall (background) and a channeled lava flow towards the west (e... [info]
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View from above at a branching lava flow snaking over slightly older, but still hot pahoehoe lava flows on the caldera floor. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
View from above at a branching lava flow snaking over slightly older, but still hot pahoehoe lava fl... [info]
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Fast-moving lava flow detail. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Fast-moving lava flow detail. (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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16 Jan evening: View from NW towards the south crater with its lava lake from campsite. What used to be a pit crater has been replaced by a sizeable lava shield currently feeding an overflow to the western caldera wall. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
16 Jan evening: View from NW towards the south crater with its lava lake from campsite. What used to... [info]
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Night-time view of the western overflow (16 Jan evening). In the background to the right, another lava flow is visible: "In the afternoon other two lava rivers appeared on SW flank (the length ca 500 m)." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Night-time view of the western overflow (16 Jan evening). In the background to the right, another la... [info]
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Sunrise over the caldera on 17 Jan. Another exciting day lies ahead... (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Sunrise over the caldera on 17 Jan. Another exciting day lies ahead... (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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In the morning, activity seemed to have calmed down at first. "Till midday the volcano was almost calm with the waving surface and small fountains." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
In the morning, activity seemed to have calmed down at first. "Till midday the volcano was almost ca... [info]
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Another view of the inactive northern crater with a young lava field in the foreground and the prominent hornitos in the left background. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Another view of the inactive northern crater with a young lava field in the foreground and the promi... [info]
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17 Jan noon. After a phase of lava lake falling and rising, new overflows begin to manifest themselves in the early afternoon. "At about 1PM two overflows began on south rim and during the time the lava flows were intensifying." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
17 Jan noon. After a phase of lava lake falling and rising, new overflows begin to manifest themselv... [info]
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View of 3 narrow lava flows running parallel from the western rim. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
View of 3 narrow lava flows running parallel from the western rim. (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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Degassing creates small fountains a few meters high at the same time. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Degassing creates small fountains a few meters high at the same time. (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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The activity gradually intensifies. "In the afternoon the activety reached at climax and broke the crater wall rim and started to flow with high speed in all directions." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
The activity gradually intensifies. "In the afternoon the activety reached at climax and broke the c... [info]
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More and more lava overflows start to leave the perched lava lake filling its flat crater to the rim. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
More and more lava overflows start to leave the perched lava lake filling its flat crater to the rim... [info]
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View (from NW) of the new lava shield produced during the past 2 months mainly, located at the place where there was once the southern pit crater with its lava lake inside. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
View (from NW) of the new lava shield produced during the past 2 months mainly, located at the place... [info]
(738 Hits)
A string of lava is thrown into the air as a larger gas bubble explodes while lava is surging out from the bowl. 
"We were observing 20-30 m fountains splashing on the norther side of the wall." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
A string of lava is thrown into the air as a larger gas bubble explodes while lava is surging out fr... [info]
(747 Hits)
At about 3 PM other overflows appeared on NE and N flank and at last ca 70% of the lava lake rim was overflowed. I can hardly say it was overflow - it was a lava flood or an eruption. The volcano was producing about 200-300 m3 of fresh lava per second and it lasted ca 15 hours." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
At about 3 PM other overflows appeared on NE and N flank and at last ca 70% of the lava lake rim was... [info]
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"The speed of the lava flows on the flank was 50-70 km per hour and the lava covered about 1 km2 of the surface inside the caldera. One of the lava flows stopped 60 m in front of the camp cliff." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"The speed of the lava flows on the flank was 50-70 km per hour and the lava covered about 1 km2 of ... [info]
(697 Hits)
Enku estimated the main flows to have reached about 500 m length on the SE side, 300 m on the N side, 500 m on the SW side
Northwestern runs 500m, and 300 m on the NE side, with an average thickness of 3 m. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Enku estimated the main flows to have reached about 500 m length on the SE side, 300 m on the N side... [info]
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In the afternoon (17 Jan), lava flows on the SW side have covered much of the western caldera floor and invade the vaster, gently dipping southern part of the oval-shaped NW-SW oriented caldera of Erta Ale. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
In the afternoon (17 Jan), lava flows on the SW side have covered much of the western caldera floor ... [info]
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The surge of magma increases during 17 Jan, generating multiple overflows from the lava lake at the top of the lava shield. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
The surge of magma increases during 17 Jan, generating multiple overflows from the lava lake at the ... [info]
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The lava overflows continue all day (17 Jan), producing spectacular views in the evening. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
The lava overflows continue all day (17 Jan), producing spectacular views in the evening. (Photo: Pa... [info]
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Evening view of the overflowing lake - a fiery spiderweb of red lava rivers and glowing lines. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Evening view of the overflowing lake - a fiery spiderweb of red lava rivers and glowing lines. (Phot... [info]
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The whole flanks of the lava shield are covered with active lava flows (evening 17 Jan). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
The whole flanks of the lava shield are covered with active lava flows (evening 17 Jan). (Photo: Pau... [info]
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Zoom onto the lava overspilling the perched lava lake at the top of the shield on the whole western side (night 17-18 Jan). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Zoom onto the lava overspilling the perched lava lake at the top of the shield on the whole western ... [info]
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"In the next morning (18 Jan) all the surroundings of the south pit (500-700 m in all directions) was covered with glowing lava and it was impossible to approach the caldera edge in SW part due to the glow." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"In the next morning (18 Jan) all the surroundings of the south pit (500-700 m in all directions) wa... [info]
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On 18 Jan 2017 the activity continues to produce some overflows, but is impressive because it shifts to produce fountains 10-15 m high. "It is highly pressurized and the northern edge of the molten lava lake is surrounded by an embryonic cone, built by fountaining activity." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
On 18 Jan 2017 the activity continues to produce some overflows, but is impressive because it shifts... [info]
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Miniature lava tube and the thin, silvery (because consisting of glass) crust typical for fresh gas-rich pahoehoe flows close to the vent. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Miniature lava tube and the thin, silvery (because consisting of glass) crust typical for fresh gas-... [info]
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Vigorous spattering from the lava lake in the afternoon. "In the afternoon there were a sporadic overflows and the activity has changed. The lava lake level was fluctuating very fast (minutes) +- 10m." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Vigorous spattering from the lava lake in the afternoon. "In the afternoon there were a sporadic ove... [info]
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"When in high level, short time overflows appeared, when in low level the activity was similar to Strombolian one - there were the fountains reaching up to 50-60 m in height." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"When in high level, short time overflows appeared, when in low level the activity was similar to St... [info]
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During 18 Jan evening, the lava level drops and violent spattering sets in from the lava lake (photo taken late evening of 18 Jan). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
During 18 Jan evening, the lava level drops and violent spattering sets in from the lava lake (photo... [info]
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In the early hours of 19 Jan, the lava level rises again, leading to new overflows, accompanied by giant gas bubbles bursting at the lava lake's surface. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
In the early hours of 19 Jan, the lava level rises again, leading to new overflows, accompanied by g... [info]
(679 Hits)
At dawn of 19 Jan, a new spatter cone forms a prominent mark on the northern end of the lake (left in picture); a large lava flow has traveled several hundred meters to the NE (in direction of campsite). (Photo: Paul Reichert)
At dawn of 19 Jan, a new spatter cone forms a prominent mark on the northern end of the lake (left i... [info]
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Close view of spattering at the breached rim of the overflowing lava lake and the lava river. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Close view of spattering at the breached rim of the overflowing lava lake and the lava river. (Photo... [info]
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19 Jan morning: After a night of continuous strong spattering, a new cone has formed at the northern end of the lava lake. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
19 Jan morning: After a night of continuous strong spattering, a new cone has formed at the northern... [info]
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Rising and falling lava lake levels alternate with overflows and exploding lava bubbles. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Rising and falling lava lake levels alternate with overflows and exploding lava bubbles. (Photo: Pau... [info]
(628 Hits)
"On 19 Jan 2017, we started our morning again with big splashes, strong fountains and overflows specially in the southwestern direction with every 20 minutes process of the level goes down wards and swelling up alternatively." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"On 19 Jan 2017, we started our morning again with big splashes, strong fountains and overflows spec... [info]
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"The episode consisted of many volcanic events with an estimated lava discharge of 50 m3 / second in all directions and 20 m high lava fountains." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"The episode consisted of many volcanic events with an estimated lava discharge of 50 m3 / second in... [info]
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Close-up of a violent fountaining phase at the northern end of the lava lake, where the liquid spatter rapidly accumulates to a new cone. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Close-up of a violent fountaining phase at the northern end of the lava lake, where the liquid spatt... [info]
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"The building up of the northern edge of the lava lake continued to make embryonic cone/wall and the crater is almost blocked from the northern side." (Enku) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
"The building up of the northern edge of the lava lake continued to make embryonic cone/wall and the... [info]
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19 Jan: "Activity was the same as a previous day - big fountains with sporadic lava flows reaching 500 m and the fluctuating lake level +-15m. We were so tired of the lava observation we started looking at outer flanks of Erta Ale..." (Richard) (Photo: Paul Reichert)
19 Jan: "Activity was the same as a previous day - big fountains with sporadic lava flows reaching 5... [info]
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Intense lava glow illuminates the scene (night of 19 Jan) . (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Intense lava glow illuminates the scene (night of 19 Jan) . (Photo: Paul Reichert) [info]
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The lava flow through the breached rim of the perched lava lake continues all night of 19-20 Jan. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
The lava flow through the breached rim of the perched lava lake continues all night of 19-20 Jan. (P... [info]
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Evening view of the new cone occupying the northern part of the lava lake now. Approx. 24 hours later (our group had just left), this and most of the rest of the lava lake as well as large parts of its surroundings collapsed into a new pit crater when the magma column beneath was suddenly drained through the lateral eruption 2-4 km downrift. (Photo: Paul Reichert)
Evening view of the new cone occupying the northern part of the lava lake now. Approx. 24 hours late... [info]
(624 Hits)
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