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 close up: The amazing spectacle as seen from the volcano rim.
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 spectacle from a little way off. This picture nicely shows Nyiragongo's wide rim.
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.
Here 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.
Here's a close-up of Erta Ale's red hot lava cauldron with gas eruptions.
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 our article on Erta Ale.
See the lava bubbling away in this amazing video of Erta Ale.
3. Kilauea, Hawaii
Here's an incredible picture of the lava flowing into the sea.
Kilauea is the youngest and probably the world’s most active volcano, continuously spewing out lava since January 3, 1983.
Here's an even closer shot of a wall of lava from Kilauea.
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.
Another amazing picture of Kilauea's lava flowing into the sea like a red hot waterfall.
Kilauea (“spewing” in Hawaiian) is one of the five shield volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii.
Another spectacular view of Mount Kilauea's eruption.
This was Puu Oo's lava pond in 1990.
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
Here's a bird's-eye-view of Mount Erebus' lava lake as seen in 1983.
Mount Erebus Volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica is like the expression “fire and ice” personified.
An amazing picture of Erebus with the lava lake (inset) from Space.
The 3,794m-tall volcano is a stratovolcano whose last eruption was in 2008 and is still going strong.
Mount Erebus' impressive smoking crater.
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.
Mount Erebus and an unimpressed observer.
It was named after the Greek god Erebus whose name means "blackness" and who is the son of Kaos (“gaping void”).
Here's a video of Mount Erebus' eruption in 2007.
5. Villarrica, Chile
Here’s looking at you, kid! Eye-to-eye with Villarrica’s crater lake.
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.
A spectacular image of Villarrica's lava fountain.
The 2,847m-high stratovolcano is usually snow-covered and one of Chile’s most active volcanoes.
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 incredible underwater volcanoes.
If you want to find out all the latest news on the environment, why not subscribe to our RSS feed?