Erta Ale volcano, Ethiopia
GPS: 13.607085579904, 40.661888293918
The Erta Ale volcano is one of the most active geological sites in the world. It is located in a very arid region of the Horn of Africa (including the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) favourable to the movement of tectonic plates. For a very long time, earth cracks show the constant displacement and progressive separation of the Somali Plate from the African Plate. These slow changes have led to the formation of faults, mountains, volcanoes, lakes and significant geothermal activity in the Great Rift Valley as Africa moves away from Arabia and Asia.
Erta Ale is located in northern Ethiopia, in the Danakil Desert (part of the Afar Triangle or Depression). In contact with the earth’s crust, this hostile zone is reputed to be the hottest place on the planet. Erta Ale is a large, effusive shield volcano that has had the distinction of hosting a permanent lava lake for over a century. Unlike explosive type volcanoes, Erta Ale generates fluid lava flows that can extend for miles and form lakes of molten lava. Its very active basalt massif is also known as “the gateway to Hell” because of its continuous eruptions of magma that can exceed 1,200 °C in temperature. Depending on the volcanic activity of the volcano, its reserve of magma visible on the surface can solidify or liquefy, occasionally clogging the crater. Locally known as the “smoking mountain”, Erta Ale remains a constant threat to the nomadic Afar populations and their herds (goats, sheep, zebus, camels). The inhabitants of the region have nevertheless learned to live in this inhospitable area. They exploit grazing areas and huge salt deposits several hundred metres thick which they transport by camel caravan to the nearest towns for trade.
Characterized by its low altitude (just over 610 metres above sea level) and impressive diameter (over 30 kilometres), the Erta Ale volcano was only discovered by Europeans at the end of the 19th century. It has attracted the interest of volcanologists since the 1960s. Despite its difficult access, local geopolitical tensions and the risk of eruptions, this natural site is attracting more and more visitors eager to observe its lake of molten lava. When it experiences sustained eruptive activity, the Erta Ale volcano can generate two lava lakes and overflow copiously into the caldera.