erta ale the world s most inconvenient volcano
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Erta Ale – The World’s Most Inconvenient Volcano

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Erta Ale – The World’s Most Inconvenient Volcano. Geographic Setting. Latitude: 13°36′N. Longitude: 40°40′E. The Afar Desert region has one of the hottest and driest climates on earth. Tectonic Setting. Erta Ale lies on the Afar Triple Junction , where three plates are diverging:

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Geographic Setting

Latitude: 13°36′N

Longitude: 40°40′E

The Afar Desert region has one of the hottest and driest climates on earth

tectonic setting
Tectonic Setting

Erta Ale lies on the Afar Triple Junction, where three plates are diverging:

Arabian Plate

African Plate (Nubian)

African Plate (Somalian)

Part of a chain of volcanoes along the East African Rift Zone


Erta Ale’s base is about 100 meters below sea level

613 meters high

50 kilometers wide


Basaltic shield volcano

Summit caldera with one—and sometimes two—active lava lakes

Calderas and Craters

The summit caldera is 1.6 km x 0.7 km with two pit craters

Active lava lake in one crater since at least 1967

One of only a few active lava lakes in the world!

Eruptive History

1873, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1940, 1960, 1967-present

Historical records on eruptions up through 1906 are undependable

2005: 250 livestock killed and thousands evacuated due to lava flows

Eruptive characteristics

Consistent degassing and heat production from lava lake

Central vent eruptions

Pahoehoe lava flows

Lava lake overflows


Similarities with Kilauea in many regards

- extensive red eruption-borne lava flows

-Lapilli and Pahoehoe; not much evidence of A’a

Moderate levels of degassing, nothing particularly unique in this regard

- Erupts large amounts of heat, but relatively little lava

  • - Basaltic to rhyolitic magma
  • Silica-rich magma from continental crust
  • Traces of glass in magma
Why does the lava lake continue to convect and stay active?
  • Volcano’s heat ejection and surface eruption levels do not match
  • Only 1:10 difference in surface lava ejection and heat; yet, lava lake does not cool into a solid plug
  • Magma most likely erupts into extensive network of sills and dykes along volcano’s wide flanks as well as surface to allow a continuously active lake
Conclusion: An Inconvenient Volcano
  • Geophysical monitoring difficult due to isolated location, less-than-comfortable weather conditions, and regional tensions (notably ARDUF)
  • Most monitoring done remotely from Addis Ababa University
  • Hazardous eruptions, difficult and dangerous tourist destination, difficult monitoring site makes for a sad volcano
Sources Global Volcanism Project =

Photo Volcanica “Erta Ale Volcano”

= “Erta Ale Volcano: Volcano World” Oregon State University 16 Feb 2003

= “Inside the hottest place on earth,” BBC Online 19 March 2009

= “Erta Ale Volcano,” Volcano Discovery

= “Erta Ale Photos,” Volcano Discovery

= “Map of East Africa” USGS 5 May 1999

= “Erta Ale” Atlas Obscura

= “Erta Ale Volcano – Ethiopia,” Fieldworks SVE November 2004 – January 2005

= “Expedition to Erta Ale Volcano” January 2005