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Report on Erta Ale (Ethiopia) — December 1995

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 11 (December 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Erta Ale (Ethiopia) Lava lake still active with fountains as high as 15 m

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Erta Ale (Ethiopia). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199512-221080.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin

Erta Ale


13.6°N, 40.67°E; summit elev. 613 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Lava lakes have been present since 1967, and possibly 1906, although the N lava lake became inactive between 1988 and 1992. Recent ground observations were reported in September and November 1992. Observations have also been made using satellite imagery. New observations were made during 6-11 December 1995 by a team from Spele-Film and the Societe de Volcanologie Geneve while working for a French television network.

Only fumarolic activity was observed from the large crater (~300 m diameter) in the N part of the caldera. Fumaroles were concentrated SW of the pit within the crater, with some emissions coming from the inside wall and the slope of talus covering the pit floor. Almost all of the visible fumes came from the main pit, and seemed more abundant than in November 1992. A secondary pit crater with a diameter of ~15 m was seen in the SE part of the main pit.

Within the central part of the caldera, the S lava lake is located at the top of a small lava shield. The N and E flanks of this shield are partially covered by abundant lava flows originating from the N crater. The S flank of the shield is dominated by a large inactive cone. No fumes were visible, but the air near the pit-crater rim was very hot, frequently making it difficult to breathe without a mask. The diameter of the S pit-crater was ~140 m (based on a measured circumference of 446 +- 2 m), and the lake was 90 m below the W rim. The lava lake was similar in size and location to one observed in 1992, covering an area of ~60 x 100 m in the WSW part of the pit (figure 6). However, the level of the lake was believed to have risen ~5-6 m. Two slope breaks on the generally flat pit floor, not present in 1992, suggest that the entire floor may have subsided.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 6. Sketch showing a cross-sectional view of the central pit-crater (S lava lake) at Erta Ale, December 1995. Courtesy of P. Vetsch.

Lava lake activity was characterized by intermittent fountaining from as many as four locations at a time. No regular pattern was noted, but fountaining was more frequent near the SW border of the lake, and the more intense fountains (5-15 m high), started near the center of the lake and migrated to the border. During the stronger fountaining phases, a large raft of cooled surface lava moved towards the lake center. The lava lake was generally more active than in 1992. Pele's hair was frequently seen above the fountains, and some rose on the hot air out of the pit.

Geologic Background. Erta Ale is an isolated basaltic shield that is the most active volcano in Ethiopia. The broad, 50-km-wide edifice rises more than 600 m from below sea level in the barren Danakil depression. Erta Ale is the namesake and most prominent feature of the Erta Ale Range. The volcano contains a 0.7 x 1.6 km, elliptical summit crater housing steep-sided pit craters. Another larger 1.8 x 3.1 km wide depression elongated parallel to the trend of the Erta Ale range is located SE of the summit and is bounded by curvilinear fault scarps on the SE side. Fresh-looking basaltic lava flows from these fissures have poured into the caldera and locally overflowed its rim. The summit caldera is renowned for one, or sometimes two long-term lava lakes that have been active since at least 1967, or possibly since 1906. Recent fissure eruptions have occurred on the N flank.

Information Contacts: P. Vetsch, Societe de Volcanologie Geneve, B.P. 298, CH-1225 Chene-bourg, Switzerland; L. Cantamessa, Geo-Decouverte, 65 rue de Lausanne, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland; G. Farve and C. Rufi, Spele-Film, Borex, Switzerland; C. Peter, 14 Haupstrasse, D-82547 Eurasburg, Germany.