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Report on Erta Ale (Ethiopia) — November 1992

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 17, no. 11 (November 1992)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Erta Ale (Ethiopia) Lava lake active in S crater during first fieldwork in many years

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1992. Report on Erta Ale (Ethiopia) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 17:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199211-221080.

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Erta Ale


13.6°N, 40.67°E; summit elev. 613 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Geologists climbed to the summit . . . on 10-11 November, for the first time in many years. Members of the group made the first known descent into the active S crater . . . (figure 4). The active pit-crater was >100 m in diameter, with vertical walls and a lava lake at 100 m depth (figure 5). A winch and ropes were used to descend the E wall on the morning of 11 November for a 2-hour visit. The 40 x 70 m lava lake occupied the W part of the crater. Air temperature at the bottom of the crater was 35°C, ~5°C cooler than the ambient temperature at the rim. Wearing gas masks, geologists approached to within 2 m of the lava lake. The lake was continuously active with 4-5-m-high lava fountains in four locations and rapid motion of the lake surface outward from the center. The N crater was confirmed to be inactive, with the bottom full of fallen rock, although there were two strong fumaroles on the S rim.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 4. Summit caldera of Erta Ale, April 1972, showing the N and S craters. Lava spillways over the caldera rim are shown diagrammatically. Sketch by Jacques Varet.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 5. Diagrammatic plan view (top) and cross-section (bottom) of the active S crater at Erta Ale, November 1992. Courtesy of P. Vetsch.

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, M. Vigny, and A. Schussele, SVG, Switzerland; L. Cantamessa, Géo-découverte, Switzerland; G. Pareau, Assoc of Alpine Guides of Chamonix, France; P. Villemin and A. Curvelier, Gaumont Television, Paris, France.