In Africa’s Danakil (or Afar) Depression
three tectonic plates are tearing themselves apart in spectacular fashion. As the plates separate, several active volcanoes have emerged along the seams. One of the most active is Erta Ale
, a shield volcano near the Ethiopian and Eritrean border. It is known as the “smoking mountain” and the “gateway to hell” in the Afar language.
Erta Ale has a long-lived lava lake that has gurgled and spattered in its caldera for decades, but the most recent bout of activity involves the southeast flank of the gently sloping mountain. According to reports posted by Volcano Discovery, new fissures opened up on January 21, 2017, about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the summit caldera, spilling large amounts of lava. Meanwhile, at least one of the lava lakes has experienced large changes in the level of its lava that have led to overflows and intense spattering.
This image was captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) sensor on Landsat 8 on January 26, 2017. It is a composite of natural color (OLI bands 4-3-2) and shortwave infrared (OLI band 7). Shortwave infrared light (SWIR) is invisible to the naked eye, but strong SWIR signals indicate increased temperatures. Infrared hot spots representing two distinct lava flows are visible. Plumes of volcanic gases and steam drift from the lava lakes.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Caption by Adam Voiland.