Sunday, August 14, 2011

World's largest lava lake in Nyiragongo Crater

In June 2010, a team of scientists and intrepid explorers stepped onto the shore of the lava lake boiling in the depths of Nyiragongo Crater, in the heart of the Great Lakes region of Africa. The team had dreamed of this: walking on the shores of the world's largest lava lake. Members of the team had been dazzled since childhood by the images of the 1960 documentary "The Devil's Blast" by Haroun Tazieff, who was the first to reveal to the public the glowing red breakers crashing at the bottom of Nyiragongo crater. Photographer Olivier Grunewald was within a meter of the lake itself, giving us a unique glimpse of it's molten matter.

The view from the volcano’s rim, 11,380 feet above the ground. At 1,300 feet deep, the lava lake has created one of the wonders of the African continent.


The permanent lava lake of the Nyiragongo is the biggest in the world, an estimated 282 million cubic feet of lava. In 1977 and 2002, the lava lake breached the crater, destroying a large part of the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


At the surface of the lake, bubbles of gas explode. The surface is permanently churned by fury from the earth's crust.


Even though the lava lake often overflows, the seven members of the expedition yearn to walk its shores.


Mount Nyiragongo is the most active of the eight volcanoes forming the Virunga range.


At the beginning of the descent to the second terrace, falling rocks are a major risk. The gas often blinds the climbers.


The expedition members need to tote a total of 1,300 pounds of equipment, food, and water -- enough for two days. The base camp is set up about 400 feet above the lava lake.


To prepare for the expedition, members have undergone four months of training.


Jacques Barthelemy, a mountaineer and veteran of Nyiragongo, uses a rope to bring bags of equipment to the second terrace.


Volcanic gases heat the base camp. Members often need to don gas masks for sleeping.


At night, the base camp is illuminated by the light of the lava lake.


The goal of the expedition is to reach the rim of the lava lake. Nobody has previously survived such an encounter.


Using a laser telemeter, a member measures the changing size of the lava lake.


Marc Caillet is the first member of the team to reach the lakes rim.


A major risk is the frequent overflows of the lake. Members surveying the lake from the second terrace help alert others to any threatening lava movements.