What looks like a light show in a crater is actually a lava lake. Long-lasting lava lakes are extremely rare because they require active volcanoes with eruptions that produce enough active lava. Currently, there are only five lava lakes in the world: Erta Ale in Ethiopia, Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kilauea in Haiwaii, Mount Erebus in Antarctica and Villarrica in Chile. Let’s take a closer look at these natural wonders.
Lava lakes can form in the vent or crater of a volcano or a broad depression. They contain large amounts of lava in either molten, partly solidified or completely solidified states. Explosive eruptions can also be caused when ground water hits hot or molten rock and flashes into steam.
1. Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo
This volcano has probably the most violent lava lake in the world as it continues to be fuelled by frequent eruptions of Nyiragongo Volcano, which are caused by the rifting of the Earth’s crust where a part of the African Plate is breaking apart. Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano, a towering peak whose main crater is 250 m deep and 2 km wide. A major eruption started on January 17th, 2002, which displaced 500,000 people as lava flows even reached the city of Goma, 20 km away.
The amazing spectacle as seen from the volcano rim:
Image via Tambora
And from a little way off. This picture nicely shows Nyiragongo’s wide rim:
Image: US Geological Survey
Here’s a video of Nyiragongo’s lava lake bubbling. Is anyone else feeling hot?
2. Erta Ale, Ethiopia
Erta Ale is a 613 m-tall, isolated shield volcano sitting right on top the East African Rift. Shield volcanoes get their name from their low-angle profile that resembles a warrior’s shield. Erta Ale is Ethiopia’s most active volcano. The lava lake is at the summit and is the world’s longest and oldest, as it has been present since the beginning of the last century. Erta Ale is located in the Afar Depression, a desert area at the border to Eritrea. The volcano’s last major eruption on September 25, 2005 and others since were covered in
Image: Volcano Discovery
Below is a helicopter view, taken in February 1994, of the active lava lake. The red patches inside the crater are molten lava that is breaking through the lava lake’s solidified, black crust. The two red dots at the rim are volcanists in protective gear and helmets taking in the incredible sight.
Image: Jacques Durieux
Here’s a close-up of Erta Ale’s red hot lava cauldron with gas eruptions:
Image: Lothar Fritsch
See the lava bubbling away in this amazing video of Erta Ale:
3. Kilauea, Hawaii
Kilauea is the youngest and probably the world’s most active volcano, continuously spewing out lava since January 3, 1983. No wonder then that it also has its own goddess, for it is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. She must be one hell of an angry goddess as eruptions are said to take place whenever she’s in a foul mood. Kilauea (“spewing” in Hawaiian) is one of the five shield volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii.
Here’s an incredible picture of the lava flowing into the sea:
Image via Tambora
And an even closer shot of a wall of lava from Kilauea:
Image: Kilauea Adventure
Another amazing picture of Kilauea’s lava flowing into the sea like a red hot waterfall:
Image via Briinhi
Another spectacular view of Mount Kilauea’s eruption:
Image: US Geological Survey
Puu Oo’s lava pond in 1990:
Image: J.D. Griggs
Basaltic lava destroyed the whole village of Kalapana, Hawaii:
For those who can’t get enough, watch this dramatic video of one of Kilauea’s many recent eruptions:
4. Mount Erebus, Antarctica
Mount Erebus Volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica is like the expression “fire and ice” personified. The 3,794m-tall volcano is a stratovolcano whose last eruption was in 2008 and is still going strong. Mount Erebus is the world’s southernmost active volcano and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a cluster of more than 160 active volcanoes. It was named after the Greek god Erebus whose name means “blackness” and who is the son of Kaos (“gaping void”).
Here’s a bird’s-eye-view of Mount Erebus’ lava lake as seen in 1983:
Image: Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory
An amazing picture of Erebus with the lava lake (inset) from Space:
Image: Garcia B.
Mount Erebus’ impressive smoking crater:
Mount Erebus and an unimpressed observer:
Image: Sean Brockelsby
Here’s a video of Mount Erebus’ eruption in 2007:
Compared to the previous lava lakes, Villarrica’s, with a length of 250m and depth of 100 m, is fairly small and has probably shrunk further since its peak of activity in November 2004, when climbers to the top of the volcano spotted the lava lake. The 2,847m-high stratovolcano is usually snow-covered and one of Chile’s most active volcanoes.
Here’s looking at you, kid! Eye-to-eye with Villarrica’s crater lake:
Image: Jean-Claude Tanguy
A spectacular image of Villarrica’s lava fountain:
Image: Jonathan Lewis
Finally, the best Villarrica eruption videos of 2005 to 2006 from the Observation Project of Villarrica:
Volcanoes are fascinating and certainly unpredictable. Don’t miss our article on .